How Is The U.S. Responding To The Crisis In Egypt?
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Okay, so we heard an analyst there saying that Hosni Mubarak, long-time ally of the United States, has a day or two, in the analyst's opinion, to make up his mind what to do in this situation. Let's talk about the evolving U.S. position on this situation.
NPR's Michele Kelemen covers the State Department. She's on the line. Michele, good morning.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: As best you can tell, does President Obama's administration know what it wants in this situation?
KELEMEN: Well, it knows what it doesn't want. It doesn't want a political vacuum here, and it doesn't want anything that the U.S does to backfire. So we've seen this administration's position changing, but quite carefully. It's gone from constantly reminding everyone what an important partner Mubarak has been to urging him to restrain the security forces, and now calling for what Secretary Clinton said yesterday, was an orderly transition to democracy.
INSKEEP: Interesting you use that word backfire - because you do have a situation where everybody knows at this point that Mubarak is reviled by many of his people but the U.S doesn't know who would replace him. That's what you're talking about when you say backfire.
KELEMEN: This is a very important country for the U.S. There are many unknowns out there. This is a movement, the protestors, that's relatively leaderless at the moment. So I think there's a lot of worries about - for the U.S. - about what comes next.
This is also a country where the U.S., you know, has called for these changes for a really long time and Mubarak has ignored them for a really long time. So it's not at all clear about how much influence the U.S. actually even has.
INSKEEP: What does the United States or what do American diplomats and other officials think of what President Mubarak has done the last several days - for instance, getting rid of his government, naming a vice president?
KELEMEN: Well, when Secretary Clinton made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows on television yesterday, she was asked on Fox News Sunday if she's satisfied with the changes, and she said no one is, least of all the Egyptian people. And you know, that's what they keep reminding of, that these are decisions for Egyptians to make, not for the U.S. But she did talk about the need to have a real plan going forward to lead to this transition to democracy.
You know, nobody's been talking about Vice President Suleiman, though he is a quite known quantity here - he's a former intelligence chief, he's been involved in all the key meetings with the Egyptians and the Americans lately, so they know him. You know, and I was reading one of the WikiLeaks cables over the weekend dating back to 2007, and it suggested that he was one of the possible successors of Mubarak and that he had been angry a few years earlier when Mubarak didn't name him as vice president as promised.
Well, now he's got the job, but we'll see if this government can even hang on.
INSKEEP: Well, it's interesting. You said that there are indications that maybe the U.S. has very little influence in this situation, but isn't the United States such a huge donor to Egypt's government, and particularly Egypt's military, that to some degree the United States could say what needs to happen or threaten to cut off aid?
KELEMEN: Well, they've used that bit of leverage very carefully. They've said that the U.S. is rethinking aid. That was a warning that was put out there on Friday and clearly meant to pressure the Egyptian military and the police to exercise restraint on the streets. It may have helped.
But the U.S., you know, has poured a lot of money into Egypt over the years and it hasn't really translated into a whole lot of leverage, at least with the Mubarak government. And Secretary Clinton was asked about this yesterday, and she said clearly that there's been no decision to cut off aid at this point.
INSKEEP: There's a more limited and immediate question of the safety of Americans in Egypt. What is the U.S. government doing to get people out?
KELEMEN: Well, it's authorized non-essential personnel at the embassy and families of diplomats to leave. It's offering also to help stranded Americans get on flights, and those flights will be starting today and they're expecting several thousand to leave.
INSKEEP: OK. Michele, thanks very much.
KELEMEN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen bringing us up to date on the U.S. government's response to the protests in Egypt.
We can also tell you, based on reports from the Associated Press, that some signs of normal life, or something like normal life, are reappearing in Cairo. Police and garbage collectors are appearing on the streets today. The military, as well as groups armed with clubs and machetes, kept the peace in many districts overnight. There has been a call for a general strike and protests continue. We'll bring you more as we learn it.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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