WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States has called for an “orderly transition” to a new government in Egypt but stopped short of demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down as protests engulf his regime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hammered home the US position with appearances Sunday on five cable news shows and President Barack Obama had used the same language in telephone calls to regional leaders, the White House said.
Mubarak has appointed military intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first ever vice president and named a new premier to try to assuage his people’s thirst for political change, but Clinton said he must go further.
“That is the beginning, the bare beginning of what needs to happen, which is a process that leads to the kind of concrete steps to achieve democratic and economic reform that we’ve been urging,” she told ABC News.
As the anti-government revolt raged into a seventh day with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei addressing protesters in Cairo, Clinton said the Egyptian people should be allowed to pursue “real democracy” through “national dialogue.”
The Obama administration has performed a delicate balancing act over the past week, backing reform but at the same time refusing to cut off vital support for Mubarak’s regime.
“There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid,” Clinton said, rowing back on earlier suggestions that Washington was reviewing $1.3 billion of annual military funding.
The White House issued a statement saying that Obama had telephoned the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Saturday to discuss the crisis and ask for their assessment of the situation.
“During his calls, the president reiterated his focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association, and speech; and supporting an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” the statement said.
Obama also spoke on Sunday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose office issued more details about their conversation.
“The prime minister and president Obama were united in their view that Egypt now needed a comprehensive process of political reform, with an orderly, Egyptian-led transition leading to a government that responded to the grievances of the Egyptian people and to their aspirations for a democratic future,” a statement said.
The Obama administration has taken flak from critics who accuse it of being more concerned about protecting a key regional security ally than in supporting an oppressed people’s pleas for democracy.
Clinton betrayed US concern that Islamists might fill the power vacuum when she told journalists on board a plane for Haiti that Washington did not want to see a new regime that would “foment violence or chaos” in the region.
Egypt has been a cornerstone of Arab-Israeli peace and a fulcrum of US Middle East policy for decades, and Mubarak has been a steadfast partner in Washington’s global anti-terror campaign and efforts to contain Iran.
“We want to recognize: Egypt has been our partner,” Clinton told Fox News Sunday. “They’ve been our partner in a peace process that has kept the region from war for over 30 years, which has saved a lot of lives.”
Picking up the same theme, Stephen Hadley, a national security adviser to former president George W. Bush, said that Washington should “resist the temptation” to press for an accelerated election schedule in Egypt.
“The Egyptian people should not have to choose only between the government-backed NDP (National Democratic Party) and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood,” Hadley wrote in an article in The Wall Street Journal Monday. “Non-Islamist parties need an opportunity to emerge to fill in the intervening political space.”
ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, who told a sea of protesters in Cairo on Sunday that a new era was beginning, hit out at the United States for continuing to sit on the fence.
“You are losing credibility by the day,” he warned in a CBS News interview from Cairo. “On one hand you’re talking about democracy, rule of law and human rights, and on the other hand you’re lending still your support to a dictator that continues to oppress his people.”
The United States, like other countries, has put in place evacuation plans. It plans to begin evacuating Americans from Egypt on Monday aboard government-arranged chartered planes.
With fears of insecurity rising and a death toll of at least 125, thousands of convicts broke out of prisons across Egypt overnight, fueling the country’s state of lawlessness.