Clinton Urges Diplomacy With Mubarak, New Government

Sunday, 30 January 2011 10:37 By Brian Knowlton, The New York Times News Service | Report | name.

Washington - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday issued a strong endorsement of key groups working to exert their influence on the chaotic Egyptian protests – the military, civil society groups and, perhaps most importantly, the nation’s people – while carefully avoiding any specific commitment to the embattled President Hosni Mubarak.

She urged a national dialogue that would lead to free and fair elections this fall.

But while speaking in general terms of a transition on CNN’s “State of the Union,” she referred to Mr. Mubarak as someone remaining in power.

“What we’re trying to do is to help clear the air so that those who remain in power, starting with President Mubarak, with his new vice president, with the new prime minister, will begin a process of reaching out, of creating a dialogue that will bring in peaceful activists and representatives of civil society to, you know, plan a way forward that will meet the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people,” she said.

Asked whether the United States was backing away from Mr. Mubarak and whether he could survive, the secretary carefully demurred. Mr. Mubarak’s political future, she said, “is going to be up to the Egyptian people.”

As she made the rounds of Sunday television talk shows, she urged the government in Cairo to respond in a “clear, unambiguous way” to the people’s demands and to do so “immediately” by quickly initiating a national dialogue. At the same time, she was supportive of the Egyptian military, calling it “a respected institution in Egyptian society, and we know they have delicate line to walk.”

Mrs. Clinton seemed to indicate that the Obama administration’s best hope was for a dialogue to channel the enormous energy on the streets, clearing the way for national elections already scheduled for September, presumably by reaching agreement on a fair and open framework and a corps of international observers.

“We have a calendar that already has elections for the next president scheduled,” she said. “There is an action-enforcing event that is already on the calendar.”

She did not address the question of whether events might short-circuit such a process.

Separately, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, laid out a scenario that he said could lead to success: He said that if Mr. Mubarak would agree to not seek re-election; turn over his government to a caretaker; and allow a process to assure “a free, open, transparent election in September,” then, “I think you could do that, but this is a narrow window of opportunity. The longer unrest exists, the more likely it is to become extreme.”

Two former senior American diplomats, not bound by the discretion required of the secretary of state, predicted that Mr. Mubarak’s political demise was only a matter of time.

“I believe it,” Edward Walker, a former ambassador to Egypt, said on CNN about Mr. Mubarak’s eventual departure. Referring to the protesters on Egyptian streets, he added, “He’s become a symbol for everything that they find objectionable.”

John Negroponte, the former ambassador to the United Nations, said he agreed that Mr. Mubarak’s days in office were numbered.

Mr. Walker said he did not expect a rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he said that to suggest a parallel to the Iranian revolution of 1979 was “a way overreach.”

Mr. Negroponte seemed a bit less sanguine. “We have a lot of examples of disasters that have followed after the demise of an authoritarian leader,” he said on CNN. “If this goes wrong it could be very bad for our interests.”

He added: “ I don’t think we should be in that big of a hurry for the regime to change.” 

This article "Clinton Urges Diplomacy With Mubarak, New Government" originally appeared at The New York Times.

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Last modified on Sunday, 30 January 2011 11:18