Egypt crisis: US foreign policy in recast mode

Thursday, February 3, 2011

WASHINGTON - With the Obama administration strongly condemning the violence against demonstrators in Egypt and calling on President Hosni Mubarak to speed up his exit from power, experts are suggesting that this is a drastic shift in American foreign policy.

Though the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has defiantly rejected suggestions from “foreign parties”, the Obama administration seems determined in setting a cutoff date for Mubarak, once considered an unshakable American supporter in a tumultuous region, to go, the New York Times reports.

“There are things that the (Egyptian) government needs to do. There are reforms that need to be undertaken. And there are opposition entities that have to be included in the conversations as we move toward free and fair elections. The sooner that can happen, the better,” the paper quoted the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, as saying.

According to the NYT, this open rupture between the United States and Egypt illustrates how swift and dramatic changes in Cairo are altering the calculus of the entire region and the administration’s foreign policy agenda.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pointedly criticized attacks against the media in Egypt and against “peaceful demonstrators”.

Officials at the Pentagon, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House were running various scenarios across the region in an effort to keep up with events.

“A full range of events are being discussed in many buildings throughout Washington,” Gibbs said.

As evidence of how far the rift has gone, a senior Egyptian official reached out to a reporter to criticize remarks made by President Obama earlier this week.

“There is a contradiction between calling on the transition to begin now, and the calls which President Mubarak himself has made for an orderly transition,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

He said that the Egyptian government has “a serious issue with how the White House is spinning this.”

A former American official said that no one wants a vacuum of power in Egypt.

American officials do not want a repeat of past promises from the Mubarak government for free elections that were followed by a shutting of the process to its opposition.

After watching Mubarak’s statement, which he fell far short of sweeping reform, Obama decided to toughen his own language further, demanding that change begin immediately.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Egypt’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, to reinforce Obama’s call for Mubarak to begin a transition immediately.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both called their counterparts on Wednesday as well.

Officials said the administration is worried about a call for even larger protests on Friday, and said Wednesday’s clashes had narrowed Mubarak’s options. (ANI)

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