WASHINGTON – As domestic turmoil sweeps moderate Arab countries and emboldens Islamic groups across the Middle East, the US assured Israel Tuesday that it was attentive to its security concerns.
“Regardless of the situation facing any government in the region, our friendship, our partnership and our alliance with Israel is unchanged,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
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Protests in Jordan and Kuwait are echoing the massive rallies in Egypt, where demonstrators continue to demand the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisia, which forced out the dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The Iranian regime and Hizbullah have been among the Islamic entities to seize on the protests as a sign of momentum swinging toward their agendas and a weakening of the pro-West alliance in the Middle East. They also raise the specter of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood playing a role in whatever new governing structure emerges.
Israel, Saudi Arabia and other American regional allies have expressed
concern that the US was abandoning its ties with friendly leaders as the
situation on the ground heated up.
Asked whether the recent
events were causing the US to re-evaluate how it deals with undemocratic
governments supportive of America, Gibbs indicated that there was no
strategic revision in US policy.
“We have important bilateral
relationships throughout the world,” he said. “We cannot institute or
force change on any of those governments. We can speak out directly,
privately and in public, on the universal values we support.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday indicated that the US was
concerned about the situation of those bilateral partnerships, and urged
Arab governments to implement reforms lest they face further uprisings.
we have seen take place in Tunisia and Egypt is a spontaneous
manifestation of discontent on the part of people who have both economic
and political grievances," he said. "My hope would be that other
governments in the region – seeing this spontaneous action in both
Tunisia and in Egypt -- will take measures to begin moving in a positive
direction toward addressing the political and economic grievances of
Though the United States has toned down their
urgent calls for Mubarak to release his grip on power as it has become
apparent that the Egyptian president does not intend to bow out quickly,
US officials are calling for concrete steps to be taken in Cairo to
make clear a change in governance is underway.
In a phone
conversation with newly installed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman,
a military leader and Mubarak confidant, US Vice President Joe Biden on
Tuesday laid out the reforms the US is looking for, according to
information put out by the State Department.
“immediately ending the arrests, harassment, beating and detention of
journalists and political and civil society activists,” and allowing for
freedom of speech and assembly; immediately rescinding the emergency
law, which Mubarak has used to stay in power for 30 years and to
suppress democratic rights; broadening talks with opposition groups to
include more parties; and inviting the opposition to jointly develop “a
roadmap and timetable for transition.”
Writing in The New York Times,
Middle East expert David Makovsky pointed to the competing concerns the
US is trying to balance as it calibrates its policy toward Egypt.
Obama is walking a tightrope: On the one hand, he aims to support
American democratic values in non-democratic states,” Makovsky wrote.
“On the other hand, he and his advisers must realize that democratic
revolutions in the Middle East have all too often been subverted by
groups that use liberal means to reach illiberal ends.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.