Egypt & US swap barbs as tension mounts Obama consults Saudi monarch on Egypt crisis Thursday, 10 February 2011
WASHINGTON (Agencies) President Barack Obama late Wednesday stressed the need for a meaningful and lasting political transition in Egypt in a telephone call with key ally King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, as Egypt accused the United States of imposing its "will" on its Arab ally. "The President spoke today with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia about the situation in Egypt," the White House said in a statement. "The President emphasized the importance of taking immediate steps toward an orderly transition that is meaningful, lasting, legitimate and responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. "The President also reaffirmed the long-term commitment of the United States to peace and security in the region." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is under siege after days of raging street protest is known to be close to King Abdullah, who has condemned efforts by what he said were "intruders" to interfere with Egypt's stability. Along with Egypt, Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and has been a lynch-pin of American regional strategy for decades. U.S. reports have suggested that regional allies have expressed deep concerns to the United States about the impact of cascading protests in the Arab world on the vital strategic region's stability. U.S. officials however refuse to divulge comments made by foreign leaders in calls to Obama, who has said Mubarak must make the "right decision" for the future of his nation and embrace a "orderly" transition to democratic rule. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit accused the United States Wednesday of imposing its "will" on its Arab ally, as the White House warned that Cairo had failed to even reach a "minimum threshold" for reform. Egypt's top diplomat lashed out in a television interview on a day when Washington took a critical line towards Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, who is in charge of a dialogue with opposition groups. And amid warnings by the Egyptian government of a military crackdown on rejuvenated protests, the U.S. government again pleaded with armed forces it helped build with billions of dollars in aid to show restraint. Washington's urgent tone When you speak about 'prompt,' 'immediate,' 'now,' as if you are imposing on a great country like Egypt, a great friend that has always maintained the best of relationship with the United States, you are imposing your will on him Egypt FM Ahmed Abul Gheit Abul Gheit condemned U.S. rhetoric on a crisis sparked by days of opposition protests in Egypt, complaining in an interview with America's PBS television at Washington's urgent tone. "When you speak about 'prompt,' 'immediate,' 'now,' as if you are imposing on a great country like Egypt, a great friend that has always maintained the best of relationship with the United States, you are imposing your will on him," Abul Gheit said. "Egypt and the president of Egypt, the government of Egypt have already started," he said, pointing to a road map for talks on a transition laid down by President Mubarak's government. U.S. spokesman have repeated a mantra hundreds of times that protesters cramming Cairo's Tahrir Square will decide Egypt's future -- not Washington. "We're not trying to dictate anything," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. The Obama administration has battled to retain a coherent line on the crisis, as it shows empathy to protesters, but tries to avoid accusations it is trying to engineer a wave of Middle Eastern unrest. With exchanges becoming more tense, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the nascent dialogue between Suleiman and some opposition groups was insufficient. "It is clear that what the government has thus far put forward has yet to meet a minimum threshold for the people of Egypt," Gibbs said, warning that protests would only swell to greater numbers this week without action. Gibbs specifically criticized steps taken by Suleiman himself and warned Egypt it could not put the "genie" of reform back in the bottle. "The process for his transition does not appear to be in line with the people of Egypt. We believe that more has to be done," said Gibbs. "The government is going to have to be responsive to these concerns," he said, adding that a failure to act would only make the protests in Cairo grow. Suleiman's tactics It's important to be clear that the United States has never gone out and said Vice President Suleiman is the right person Jake Sullivan, Clinton\'s deputy chief of staff The stiffened U.S. line on Suleiman's tactics followed comments by Secretary of Clinton that on Sunday that change in Egypt would take time -- which were taken by some observers as an endorsement of Suleiman. But two senior administration officials denied in a conference call that there were conflicts between Clinton's message and that of the White House. "It's important to be clear that the United States has never gone out and said Vice President Suleiman is the right person," said Jake Sullivan, Clinton's deputy chief of staff. Suleiman has emerged as a crucial player in the Egyptian political crisis, and is a known quantity in Washington after spending years at the head of the Egyptian intelligence service. But any hopes here that he would move quickly to facilitate the "orderly" and swift transition the United States wants to see, appear dashed. And in a sign of the widening role the crisis is exacting on U.S. policy in the region, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was at the White House on Wednesday to meet top members of Obama's security team. Hundreds of demonstrators had earlier marched on parliament in Cairo on Wednesday, prompting Abul Gheit to warn that the army would intervene to protect the country if the protests against Mubarak escalated. In turn, Washington renewed its calls on the Egyptian army to show restraint. Abul Gheit also complained at Washington's repeated public calls for the overturning of an Egyptian emergency law renewed last year -- a key demand of protesters and the U.S. government. "How can you ask me to sort of disband that emergency law while I'm in difficulty? Give me time, allow me to have control to stabilize the nation, to stabilize the state," he said.