WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Egypt and Tunisia next week, becoming the most senior US official to visit the region after popular revolts toppled US-allied governments in both countries.

"I intend to convey strong support of the Obama administration and the American people, that we wish to be a partner in the important work that lies ahead as they embark on a transition to a genuine democracy," Clinton told a congressional panel on Thursday.

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"We have an enormous stake in ensuring that Egypt and Tunisia provide models for the kind of democracy that we want to see."

Clinton's visit will allow her to personally assess the situation in Egypt, where the Obama administration gave strong support to protesters who ultimately forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, long a staunch US ally, in February.

She will also talk to transitional government officials in Tunisia, which launched the wave of political turmoil sweeping the Arab world with mass protests that toppled President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Egypt and Tunisia both border Libya, where leader Muammar Gaddafi's increasingly bloody battle against rebels seeking to end his 41-year rule has spurred rising calls for international action.

Clinton told the House of Representatives appropriations committee that the Obama administration was keeping all options on the table for possible stronger measures on Libya, and was seeking to build bridges to Libyan opposition figures.

'BOMBS AND BULLETS'

"We are standing with the Libyan people as they brave bombs and bullets to demand that Gaddafi must go now," Clinton said.

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"We are reaching out to the opposition inside and outside of Libya. I will be meeting with some of those figures both here in the United States and when I travel next week to discuss what more the United States and others can do."

Clinton's trip takes place as the Obama administration seeks to understand how the political transformation of the Middle East will effect US interests and those of its key regional ally, Israel.

Washington has backed what it calls an orderly transition in Egypt, where the military is overseeing a temporary government with plans for a constitutional referendum and new elections for both parliament and president.

Caretaker authorities in Tunisia are also shepherding through political changes ahead of elections for a new national constituent assembly in July.

Clinton will also consult with Libya's neighbors on possible next steps against Gaddafi, whose military strikes against rebel forces have prompted rising calls for international action.

The United States has joined relief efforts for thousands of people fleeing Libya's unrest into both Egypt and Tunisia, but has not yet embraced suggestions of a military response including establishing a no-fly zone over the country.

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