Obama stops short of asking Mubarak to quit

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Saturday, February 5, 2011

WASHINGTON - Short of asking embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to quit, President Barack Obama has served notice on a key ally that the transition of power “must begin now” and lead to “free and fair elections.

Talks between he Egyptian government and its political opponents were in the initial stages, he noted Friday but warned that the mere “pretense of reform” would not be enough to resolve that country’s deepening crisis.

Negotiations must “include a broad representation of the Egyptian opposition,” he told reporters.

Asked if Mubarak needs to step down now-as opposed to waiting for a successor to be chosen in Egypt’s September elections-Obama said Mubarak needs to consult with advisers and listen to what’s “being voiced by the Egyptian people.”

Obama who has had two conversations with Mubarak since the crisis began said the question Mubarak needs to ask himself is, “How do we make that transition effective, and lasting, and legitimate?”.

He said Mubarak “will be able to make the right decision.”

The Egyptian leader is “proud” but also a “patriot,” Obama said. Mubarak needs to make a judgment about his legacy and the best “pathway forward.” Violence and repression have no role in the “orderly transition process,” he added. “The whole world is watching.”

Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also condemned a string of attacks against journalists, human rights activists, and protesters in Egypt.

The United States continues “to be crystal clear that we oppose violence as a response to this crisis,” Obama said Friday. On Thursday, Clinton called such incidents “a violation of international norms” and “unacceptable in any circumstances.”

“It is especially in times of crisis that governments must demonstrate their adherence to (core universal) values,” she said. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that the administration continues “to receive very disturbing reports” of “systematic targeting” of journalists in Egypt.

The increasingly urgent push for reform comes as the Egyptian government pushed back on what it called “vague” statements from the Obama administration about the pace of transition, CNN said Friday.

The US government has encouraged talks between Mubarak’s government and its opponents over the past few days, in part out of recognition that an orderly transition to democracy could prove difficult if Mubarak suddenly steps down without laying any groundwork first, it noted.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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