Washington: US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, on Saturday spoke with the Egyptian military leadership to express America's "deep concern" about raids in Egypt against human rights organisation and NGOs.

The Egyptian military leadership is believed to have assured the Defence Secretary to halt raids against these NGOs, many of whom are supported and funded by the US.

In his 25-minute telephonic conversation with the Egyptian Field Marshal Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Panetta expressed his "deep concern" about the raids that took place on December 29 on the offices of American and other NGOs.

"He also conveyed his appreciation for Field Marshal Tantawi's prompt decision to halt the raids, and to take steps that will make it easier for NGOs to operate in Egypt," the Pentagon Press Secretary, George Little, said.

Panetta emphasised that after two successful rounds of parliamentary elections, it is critical for Egypt to continue on the path to democratic transition.

"The Secretary reaffirmed the importance of the US-Egyptian security relationship, and made clear that the US remains committed to the strategic partnership and stands ready to cooperate with Egypt as it continues its democratic transition," Little said.

Meanwhile, a newspaper quoted senior American officials saying that Egypt's military rulers privately signaled a retreat on Saturday in a crackdown on organisations that promote democracy and human rights, even as the authorities in Cairo tried to discredit the organisations with accusations of suspicious activity.

"Field Marshal Tantawi offered the assurances during a 25-minute telephone conversation on Friday with the American defence secretary, Leon E Panetta.

"The conversation capped a flurry of diplomatic protests over the shutdown of the groups and unusually sharp public criticism from the United States and Europe," the newspaper reported.

(Agencies)