WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone to his Egyptian counterpart after the army issued an ultimatum to Egypt's embattled president to meet the demands of his people, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
Pentagon spokesman George Little offered no details about Hagel's conversation on Tuesday with army chief and defense minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
But Little told reporters the United States has conveyed to Egyptian leaders that Washington supports "the democratic process" and does not back any particular side in the unfolding political crisis.
"US officials at all levels have made it clear that we support the democratic process in Egypt and that we hope that this period of tension can be resolved in a peaceful manner and that violence can be avoided," Little said.
"We don't support any single party or group. We believe that this needs to be resolved through political means."
With crowds pouring onto the street to demand Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's resignation, Hagel's conversation followed a previously undisclosed phone call with Sisi late last week, Little said.
Asked why the Pentagon had not publicly announced last week's phone call until Wednesday, Little cited the "sensitivities of this situation."
The Egyptian military issued a 48-hour deadline on Monday for Morsi to meet the "people's demands", a day after millions of protesters took to the streets across the country calling for him to resign.
The US top brass has long-standing ties to Egypt's armed forces after decades of American military assistance and officials say the relationship helped pave the way for the peaceful end of ex-president Hosni Mubarak's rule in 2011.
"Historically, the department has a very close relationship with the Egyptian military," Little said.
"We've had good contacts for many years with senior Egyptian military officials. We hope that after this crisis is over and hopefully after it's resolved we can maintain that relationship," he said.
After days of street clashes that have claimed nearly 50 people, the Pentagon had not been ordered to provide any emergency military support to US diplomats posted in Cairo, he said.
President Barack Obama has proposed providing $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt in fiscal year 2014.