Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Mubarak announcement disappoints Obama administration

By Karen DeYoung and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 7:32 PM

President Obama said Tuesday that a transition to democracy in Egypt "must begin now" and should lead to opposition participation in free and fair elections.

Speaking after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's announcement Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in September, Obama said he had called Mubarak after the speech and discussed the situation in Egypt with him.

"He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that change must take place," Obama said at the White House. He said he told Mubarak of "my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now."

Earlier, Obama administration officials indicated that Mubarak's announcement was less than they had hoped for and was unlikely to satisfy protesters' demands for a new government.

Obama met with his top national security officials following Mubarak's televised speech as the White House contemplated its next step.

Mubarak spoke after receiving a direct message from Obama carried by retired U.S. diplomat Frank G. Wisner. Although officials declined to discuss the details of Wisner's meeting with Mubarak Tuesday, they said that the administration's "prevailing view" since last weekend has been that an agreement by Mubarak not to run again was insufficient.

In public statements since Sunday, the administration has called for an "orderly transition" in Egypt, defined by officials as the immediate establishment of a representative, interim government that would enact reforms and prepare for an open election.

Although officials have said the administration was not opposed to Mubarak's remaining in office through a transition period if that were acceptable to the Egyptian people, several indicated in recent days that they did not see how that would satisfy the vast throngs who have taken to the streets to demand his ouster.

Obama's message to Mubarak urging him not to run again contrasted sharply with the White House's characterization of its position in a news briefing Monday.

Asked whether the U.S. government preferred "that Mubarak not run again," press secretary Robert Gibbs said: "The United States government does not determine who's on the ballot. The question is whether or not those elections are going to be free and fair. That's what we would weigh in on and weigh in on strongly."

The administration's current position is similar to that spelled out Tuesday morning by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He called for Mubarak to both declare that neither he nor his son would run in September and to pledge to work with the Egyptian army and civil society to establish "an interim, caretaker government as soon as possible to oversee an orderly transition in the coming months."

Kerry, whose comments appeared in an op-ed article in The New York Times, said that Egypt's stability "hinges on [Mubarak's] willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new ppolitical structure."

In a statement issued following Mubarak's remarks, Kerry again called on him to "work now with the military and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government."

Kerry said of Mubarak's announcement: "It remains to be seen whether this is enough to satisfy the demands of the Egyptian people for change. . . . Much work remains to be done to turn this auspicious moment into lasting peace and prosperity. Egyptians must now prepare for elections and achieve a peaceful transition of power. The military must continue to show the restraint it has so admirably exercised these past days. And opposition leaders must come together to develop a process that will ensure that all of Egypt's voices are heard."

Earlier, a State Department spokesman said the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, spoke Tuesday with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei "as part of our public outreach to convey support for orderly transition in Egypt."

ElBaradei, 68, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who formerly headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, rejected Mubarak's announcement Tuesday, demanding that he step down by Friday. ElBaradei returned to Cairo last week with the aim of leading a transition to democracy.


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