Obama calls for political transition in Egypt

US president calls on Mubarak to listen to the people, consult with advisers about changing current way of gov't.

Obama with Harper 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama with Harper 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama indicated over the weekend that initial discussions over a transition process had begun to move forward in Egypt, as he called on President Hosni Mubarak to listen to the people and consult with his advisers about changing the current way of government.
“Going back to the old ways is not going to work. Suppression is not going to work. Engaging in violence is not going to work,” Obama said during a press availability with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday.
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“[Mubarak] needs to listen to what’s being voiced by the Egyptian people and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly, but that is meaningful and serious.”
Obama described Mubarak as “proud, but he’s also a patriot,” and challenged him by saying, “the key question he should be asking himself is, how do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period? And my hope is, is that he will end up making the right decision.”
Obama noted that “some discussions have begun” and that the US is “consulting widely with the international community to communicate our strong belief that a successful and orderly transition must be meaningful.”
Obama did not more directly address reports that American officials have been holding talks with their Egyptian counterparts to convince Mubarak to step down and set up a transitional government, most likely headed by newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman in his place.
The White House did announce, however, that Vice President Joe Biden had spoken to Suleiman by phone on Thursday.
“Vice President Biden urged that credible, inclusive negotiations begin immediately in order for Egypt to transition to a democratic government that addresses the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” the White House said in a statement after the call, noting that Biden also repeated US calls for restraint and an end to intimidation of journalists and human rights activists.
US officials have also been reaching out to leaders of neighboring countries to bolster them as anti-government protests spread around the Arab world and as many Arab leaders question the support of America in light of US encouragement for a government transition.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in EgyptClick here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Obama himself spoke to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh “to welcome the significant reform measures” he announced Wednesday, according to a White House statement following the conversation.
Saleh had announced that he would step down when his term ended in 2013 and that neither he nor his son would run again.
“President Saleh now needs to follow up his pledge with concrete actions,” the White House said. “President Obama asked that Yemeni security forces show restraint and refrain from violence against Yemeni demonstrators who are exercising their right to free association, assembly and speech.”
In Jordan, King Abdullah also announced a series of reforms, including firing the government, in light of popular unrest. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to him Thursday and said the US looked forward to working with the new cabinet and continued to value the USJordan relationship.
“He’s doing his best to respond,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said of Abdullah’s action in the face of protests. “We appreciate the leadership he’s shown.”
Meanwhile, the US Congress became more vocal in its criticism of Mubarak and clear that they believe he should leave.
The Senate unanimously passed a resolution late Thursday co-sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Arizona Republican John McCain calling for Mubarak to “immediately begin an orderly and peaceful transition to a democratic political system,” which they said should include transferring power to an interim caretaker in coordination with opposition leaders, until elections are held later this year.
The resolution also “underscores the vital importance of any Egyptian Government continuing to fulfill its international obligations, including its commitments under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty” and “expresses deep concern over any organization that espouses an extremist ideology, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In addition, New York Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman, one of the first members of Congress to call for Mubarak to go, heightened his calls for a cutoff in US assistance to Egypt in light of recent events.
“I write to urge you to give the most serious consideration to indefinitely suspending US assistance to Egypt,” Ackerman said in a letter to Obama released Friday. “I believe it essential to our national security interests that the world’s largest Arab state know that America’s commitment to democracy is real, and that we will not continue to underwrite a regime organizing violence against its own people.”
However, sources said that at this point it was unlikely that aid to Egypt would be suspended, though whatever money is granted is likely to be heavily conditioned.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, several members of Congress asked the German foreign minister to close a German bank they charged helps Iran evade non-proliferation sanctions.
The senators said that the government should take immediate action against Europaisch-Iraniche Handelsbank, which has already been designated by the United States.
“The threat of a nuclear armed Iran is undeniable and we must make sanctions as strong as possible to deny Iran the economic means to develop these weapons,” 11 senators wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.
“Europaisch-Iraniche Handelsbank must halt these practices or be closed immediately.”