Clinton: Mideast battered by 'perfect storm'

02/05/2011 10:10

From Swiss Info:  MUNICH (Reuters) - The United States backs Egypt's drive to craft orderly reforms that will allow democratic elections, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday.

Clinton, in one of the clearest U.S. statements yet on how Egypt should proceed amid mass demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak, said an attempt to find a transitional mechanism could be the best hope for the future.

"It is important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian government actually headed by now-Vice President Omar Suleiman," Clinton told an audience at a security conference in Munich.

Suleiman was scheduled to meet prominent independent opposition figures later on Saturday to go through various options, among which the most prominent is a proposal for him to assume the president's powers for an interim period.

Suleiman, Mubarak's long-time intelligence chief who was appointed vice president at the height of the crisis, is well-known to Washington having played key roles in Middle East peace and counter-terrorism efforts.

Some Egyptian opposition figures doubt someone with Suleiman's pedigree would push through meaningful reforms, and both Obama and Clinton have repeatedly warned that they will be watching closely to ensure that the changes are real.

TIME

Clinton said that while the Washington firmly supported calls by Egyptian protesters for greater democracy, it would take time to establish the groundwork "that will permit an orderly establishment of the elections that are scheduled for September."

U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly urged Mubarak to begin the transition immediately -- and Clinton said on Saturday she believed that this process was already under way and should be allowed time to unfold.

"The principles are very clear, the operational details are very challenging," Clinton said.

"President Mubarak has announced he will not stand for re-election, nor will his son," Clinton said, noting that the government had also pledged constitutional reforms and allowing greater political participation.

"That is what the government has said it is trying to do, that is what we are supporting, and hope to see it move as orderly but as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances."

Egypt has dominated Clinton's schedule at the Munich conference, where she used her speech to warn that the broader Middle East faces a "perfect storm" of unrest unless regional leaders get cracking on political reforms.

Egypt has been a U.S. ally throughout Mubarak's 30-year tenure and it is strategically vital to American interests because of its peace treaty with Israel, control of the Suez Canal and steadfast opposition to militant Islam.

The United States gives Egypt more than $1.3 billion per year in military aid -- giving Washington limited political leverage.

MORAL SUPPORT, POLITICAL PRESSURE

While eager to extend moral support to the protesters, who have staged 12 days of demonstrations demanding Mubarak leave immediately, both Clinton and Obama have consistently stopped short of calling for the 82-year old strongman to step down.

Clinton said all sectors of Egyptian society would have to be patient and contribute. "This is such a difficult set of decisions for any government to carry out and do so in a way that results in the outcome we're all seeking," she said.

"Our hope that this proceeds peacefully...and that there be an election with international observers and with sufficient preparation and performance that it will be viewed as free, fair and credible when it is finally held," she said.

The Egypt crisis has spurred the Obama administration to a new public push for speedy political reform among its Middle East allies, which include not only Egypt and Jordan but global oil giant Saudi Arabia and Yemen, an impoverished state now central to the U.S.-led war against al Qaeda.

"The region is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends," Clinton said in her speech to the Munich gathering. "This is what has driven demonstrators into the streets of Tunis, Cairo, and cities throughout the region. The status quo is simply not sustainable."

Reuters

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