AFP: Careful Obama hints Mubarak should go

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WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama Friday urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as a proud patriot, to “listen” to protestors demanding he quit, apparently hinting the Arab strongman should go now.
Obama did not explicitly call on Mubarak to resign, but noted he had already made the psychological leap of saying he would step down after elections in September — and should now reconsider his position amid a mass uprising.
“He needs to listen to what is voiced by the people and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly, that is meaningful … and serious,” Obama said, in carefully worded comments on Egypt’s political future.
“I believe that President Mubarak cares about his country. He is proud, but he is also a patriot,” Obama said, in comments which appeared to deliver a broad hint that Mubarak should go sooner rather than later.
Amid reports that Washington was working on a number of scenarios with key Egyptian players that would result in Mubarak’s departure and a political transition, Obama stressed Egyptians must decide their future themselves.
But he said he understood “some discussions” were already underway in Egypt on a transition to a system that would respect universal rights and lead to free and fair elections.
And he also delivered another unequivocal warning that violence against journalists, human rights activists and journalists was unacceptable, though said he was pleased with restraint shown on a mass day of protests on Friday.
Obama, speaking at a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said he had told Mubarak clearly in two telephone calls that the “old ways” that had sustained his 30-year-rule were not going to work.
“Supression is not going to work, engaging in violence is not going to work.”
A first glimpse of secret US diplomacy over the crisis was revealed in a New York Times article late Thursday, detailing a plan for Mubarak to turn over power now to a transitional government led by Vice President Omar Suleiman.
The White House took issue with aspects of the report, but did not deny it outright, and its response hinted that the United States may be studying a range of options to prod Mubarak to go and defuse the confrontation in Cairo.
“It’s simply wrong to report that there’s a single US plan that’s being negotiated with the Egyptians,” a senior White House official said on condition of anonymity.
The report, citing administration officials and Arab diplomats, said the United States was seeking backing from the Egyptian military even though Mubarak himself was balking at the idea.
The Times said the proposal calls for the transitional government to invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to start a process to hold free and fair elections in September.
US officials are navigating a showdown between Mubarak, a stalwart US ally for 30 years who is a fulcrum of Washington’s regional strategy and protesters demanding political freedoms which tug at US popular imagination.
Friday’s comments were Obama’s first on camera remarks on Egypt since Tuesday.
Since then, the Egyptian leader has told Obama via an interview with ABC television that he does not understand the depth of chaos that would ensue should he cede power immediately.
His words were lent extra weight by mass protests in Cairo on what has been dubbed “Departure Day” by Mubarak foes, after brutal street fighting between rival factions this week killed least eight and injured over 800.
As US officials plotted strategy behind closed doors, there were fresh signs that the Pentagon was seeking to guard its ties with Egypt’s politically powerful military.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff cautioned against cutting the 1.3 billion dollars in US annual support to the Egyptian military, following signals from the White House that the aid bonanza was under review.
“I would just caution against doing anything until we really understand what’s going on,” Admiral Mike Mullen said in an interview on ABC News.
For years, Egypt has been the second largest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel.
US officials believe that years of training and instruction for Egyptian officers at American defense colleges has helped shape attitudes in the military, making them reluctant to use force against their compatriots.
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