Washington: With the changing scenario in Egypt, the United States is keen on building a new relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, but concerns linger about the group's attitude toward minorities, women and the peace treaty with Israel.

In the wake of President Hosni Mubarak's ouster last February, the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political arm, has claimed the lead in the final stage of parliamentary elections after leading throughout.

Liberal and secular opposition parties have fared poorly.

"It's clear that they (the Brotherhood) are now the only game in town," and US officials must talk to them, said Marina Ottaway, who heads the Middle East program in Washington for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Even before the elections began, the US knew it had to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political movement in an Egypt which is no longer dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said before the polls that the US had pursued "limited contacts" with the Brotherhood as Washington was "re-engaging in" a six-year-old policy in light of Egypt's political changes.

Ottaway said president George W Bush's administration stopped talking about its Freedom Agenda of democracy promotion after candidates backed by the Brotherhood gained 20 percent of parliamentary seats in the 2005 election.

The administration, she told AFP, "essentially bought Mubarak's line" that the Brotherhood and its links to Islamist militants were a threat to Egypt's and the region's stability, even though it had renounced violence decades ago.

The most populous Arab country, Egypt has been the lynchpin of US policy in the Middle East since 1979 when it became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

(Agencies)