U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed Egypt's turbulent democratic transition with the country's top general on Sunday as the military wrestles for influence with a newly elected president.
The low-key, hour-long meeting with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi came a day after she met Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, whose powers were clipped by the military days before he took office following the country's first free leadership vote.
Mursi fired back by recalling the Islamist-dominated parliament that the army leadership had disbanded after a court declared it void, deepening the stand-off before the new leader even had time to form a government.
The result has been acute political uncertainty as the various power centres try to find a way to get along in a country that still has no permanent constitution, parliament or government more than a year after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak.
Mursi is the first Egyptian president not to hail from the military since 1952. The generals have said many times they had no desire to remain in day-to-day government and would limit their role to one of national security.
What that means in practice will be determined by the working relationship Mursi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to forge with an old political establishment that still holds sway over much of government.
It will also be decided by a new constitution setting out Mursi's powers. The document has been caught up in months of wrangling and the military has given itself an effective veto over the final draft.
Clinton said after meeting Mursi on Saturday that her meeting with Tantawi would cover the army's return to a "purely national security role" as well as the issue of parliament.
The meeting was lower profile than her discussions with Mursi, in line with protocol for such visits - Tantawi is no longer Egypt's effective head of state. And the State Department was very cautious on what was discussed during the encounter.
The United States, which provides its long-standing ally with $1.3 billion in military aid per year, making it one of Egypt's biggest donors, has worked hard not to take sides in the latest political stand-off.
According to a U.S. official travelling with Clinton, she spoke of Egypt's political evolution, while Tantawi told her what Egypt needed most right now was help overcoming its economic problems.
Egypt risks a balance of payments and budget crisis unless it can secure billions of dollars from overseas donors, but most of the aid has been delayed by the political wrangling.