Image: Egyptian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Filippo Monteforte  /  AFP - Getty Images
Egyptian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
updated 12/30/2011 8:56:46 PM ET 2011-12-31T01:56:46

Egyptian authorities agreed Friday to halt raids against non-governmental pro-democracy groups as senior Obama administration officials stepped up pressure for them to stop, U.S. officials said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson spoke Friday with senior Egyptian officials to underscore Washington's concern about the raids on the organizations, including three groups funded by Washington, according to the Pentagon and the State Department.

Egyptian authorities told Patterson in Cairo that the raids would stop and seized property would be returned to the groups, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

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She said Patterson had made clear that the U.S. expects "all international NGOs, including those that receive U.S. government support, (to) be able to return to normal operations as soon as possible in support of the democratic transition under way in Egypt."

Patterson agreed to take part in a dialogue with Egyptian officials to better explain the work of the organizations and address any concerns they might have. "These NGOs should be allowed to operate freely as they do in countries around the world in support of democracy and free elections," Nuland said.

After Patterson's discussions, Panetta spoke by phone to the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to emphasize the importance the administration places on the country's democratic transition and the ability of non-governmental organizations to work.

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Panetta expressed appreciation for the decision to stop the raids and move to make it easier for NGOs to work in Egypt, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. "The secretary emphasized that it is critical for Egypt to continue on the path to democratic transition," he said.

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

On Thursday, Egyptian police and judicial officials raided a number of non-governmental organizations assisting in Egypt's transition, including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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