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With Egypt, U.S. Juggles Longtime Alliance, Protesters’ Calls for Reform

January 31, 2011 at 5:41 PM EDT
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More than 1,200 Americans have left Egypt, with more expected to depart in the coming days. As the U.S. government reacts to the uprising facing its longtime Middle Eastern ally, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called for an "orderly transition" to a more democratic government. Kwame Holman reports.

MARGARET WARNER: The chaos in Egypt posed a delicate diplomatic challenge for the United States: appealing for democracy without alienating an ally.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the political crisis deepened in Egypt, U.S. leaders in Washington tried to maintain a balanced response.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: It is not up to us to determine when the grievances of the Egyptian people have been met by the Egyptian government.

KWAME HOLMAN: On one hand, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been a vital U.S. partner, but U.S. policy also requires support for the rights of the protesters.

ROBERT GIBBS: We have said all along that there are, as I mentioned, legitimate concerns and grievances had by the Egyptian people for a long time. But we’re not picking between those on the street and those in the government.


KWAME HOLMAN: In appearances on all five political talk shows yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it even more directly.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: It needs be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy, like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago, and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Clinton, too, stopped short of calling on Mubarak himself to go.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: You know, I’m not going to speculate, Bob. What we are focused on now is a transition that will meet the needs of the Egyptian people and that will truly establish democracy.

KWAME HOLMAN: Three key European leaders also weighed in on Sunday.

In a joint statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited Mubarak’s role as a moderating force in the Middle East. They said: “We now urge him to show the same moderation in addressing the current situation in Egypt. We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation, which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections.”

Back at the White House today, spokesman Gibbs said Mubarak’s announcement of a new Cabinet is not enough. But U.S. officials said there were no plans to cut nearly $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt.