Obama changes his mind, wants Mubarak to stay

Monday, February 7, 20111   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

WASHINGTON The administration of President Barack Obama has reversed course and now supports the continuation of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Officials said Obama and key administration officials have been persuaded that Mubarak should not resign immediately, a position believed held by Washington until Feb. 4. Instead, officials said, Mubarak should stay until his term ends in September in an effort to retain U.S. relations with Egypt and other Arab countries as well as ensure a smooth transition toward democracy.

"We need to get a national consensus around the preconditions for the next step forward," Obama's envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner, said. "The president must stay in office to steer those changes."

Obama sent Wisner to Cairo in an attempt to persuade the 82-year-old Mubarak to resign immediately. But officials said Wisner, who met most of the Egyptian leadership as well as opposition, concluded that the ruling National Democratic Party was determined to remain in power even at the cost of massive civilian bloodshed.

In an address on Feb. 5 to the Munich Security Conference, Wisner, regarded as close to the Cairo leadership, said Mubarak could lead Egypt to meaningful reform. He said the Egyptian president would use the next eight months to set his legacy.

"President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical," Wisner said. "It's his opportunity to write his own legacy. He has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country. This is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward."

"The crisis is of extraordinary importance," Wisner continued. "What happens in Egypt affects all of our interests throughout the region."

Officials said Wisner warned Obama that the Egyptian president would not resign, let alone flee his country. They said Wisner determined that Mubarak retained the loyalty of the military as well as the security forces.

"He [Mubarak] has given a clear message to his government to lead and support this process of transition," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also addressed the Munich conference, said. "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."

Over the last few days, officials said, the administration received messages from both Egypt's new vice president, Omar Suleiman, as well as senior military commanders that Obama's call for Mubarak to step down was sparking resentment against the United States. They said Mubarak remained vital to Egypt's strategic relationship with Washington, regarded as the pillar of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

"Having made that psychological break, that decision that he [Mubarak] will not be running again, I think the most important for him to ask himself, for the Egyptian government to ask itself, as well as the opposition to ask itself is: How do we make that transition effective and lasting and legitimate?" Obama said on Feb. 4.

The Defense Department has also reassured the Mubarak regime that the United States would not halt weapons deliveries to Egypt. Egypt's military has been preparing for deliveries of U.S. patrol boats, munition fuses and spare parts for its F-16 multi-role fighter fleet.

"To date we have seen them [military] act professionally and with restraint," Pentagon spokesman David Lapan said.

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