Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood would accept EU mediation in talks to restore ousted president Mohamed Morsi, even briefly before new elections, but is still planning sustained protests, officials said on Thursday.
Brotherhood officials who met EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and envoy Bernardino Leon said they believe European Union mediation could eventually lay the groundwork for a roadmap to restore Morsi's presidency before an election.
The military, which formally handed power to a transitional government after overthrowing Morsi on July 3, has rejected any such outcome.
Gehad El-Haddad, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official, said he had met Leon at a Cairo square where the Islamists have been staging a sit-in demanding Morsi's reinstatement.
"The discussion with Bernardino was on how to prepare talks," he said.
"Restoring legitimacy is non-negotiable," he said of Morsi's election as president and of the constitution and senate, which the army suspended when it toppled him.
Senior Brotherhood official Amr Darrag, who served as Morsi's international cooperation minister, said he had separately met Leon several days before Ashton visited Cairo on Wednesday.
"He called me, through a Western ambassador. The main purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm," Darrag said.
Leon "expressed aspirations that we get involved in the political process, political discussion".
At that meeting, and later with Ashton, Darrag said he told the diplomats it was "impossible to get engaged in the political process under the rules of a military coup".
The military, which took charge after a popular revolt overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, had also overseen the June 2012 elections that brought Morsi to power.
"We made it clear: our position is to reinstate legitimacy. We will be flexible in discussing anything after legitimacy is restored," he said, referring to an early election among the options.
The Brotherhood believes a growing campaign of protests could eventually force the military to reinstate Morsi, he added.
"I don't think the issue will be resolved through international mediation," he said.
"People are increasing on the street," Darrag said of Brotherhood-led protests demanding Morsi's reinstatement.
"The military will definitely keep making mistakes, and definitely more people will come to our side," he added.
James Moran, EU ambassador in Cairo, said on Thursday that "nobody is talking at the moment of any mediation from the European Union or any outside party".
He added that it "can only be sensible once the parties concerned decide among themselves that they would like to have such mediation".
Although mostly peaceful, protests by Morsi loyalists have resulted in clashes that have killed dozens of people since his ouster.
In the worst incident, at least 53 people, mostly Morsi supporters, were killed in clashes with soldiers outside a military building in Cairo were they believed the deposed president was being held.
The Brotherhood, long banned and persecuted under Mubarak, is again facing a wave of arrests targeting its senior leadership.
It has been unable to muster the same numbers seen in opposition rallies that clamoured for Morsi's overthrow in the days before his ouster.
But Brotherhood officials believe the military and its interim government will have to negotiate with the Islamist movement under pressure of sustained protests.
EU mediation would prove helpful then, they said.
But a senior state official dismissed Morsi's reinstatement, however brief, as unrealistic.
"There are no negotiations on this. The Brotherhood will have to accept it is a political party, and is welcome to join the process," said the official, who requested anonymity as he was unauthorised to speak to the media.
Morsi has been held in a secret location by the military since his overthrow. Following international calls for his release, the government now says it is merely holding him for his own safety.