By LOLITA C. BALDOR
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 5:38 AM
CAIRO -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that Egyptian authorities should give nascent political organizations time to organize, as the country begins to take tentative steps toward democracy.
It's important to allow new political groups to become active in the government, Gates said, so that they can play the same leading role in Egypt's future that they did in bringing about the change in the first place.
Gates, who met Thursday with military leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, praised the Egyptian military for protecting the people during the protests that led to the ouster last month of President Hosni Mubarak.
"He told me the Army would protect the people," Gates told reporters. "And in everything that ensued, he and the Army kept their word."
Gates said the U.S. is being careful not to second-guess the interim government, but will provide assistance to help the transition move forward.
The Pentagon chief spoke repeatedly to Tantawi during the protests over the past two months, but Thursday's meeting was the first time they got together in person since the uprising.