In Egypt, Clinton Meets With Rulers, Activists

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Cairo to meet with its new government after meeting a Libyan rebel representative in Paris. In Paris, she was bombarded with questions she dodged about the growing confrontation in Bahrain after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states sent troops there to shore up King al Khalifa.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Cairo today. She is the most senior U.S. official to visit Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Mubarak was a long time U.S. ally and now Secretary Clinton is meeting with the country's temporary military rulers as well as with some activists.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Egypt was just one of several topics that dominated the secretary's day.

MICHELE KELEMEN: On the edge of Tahrir Square, at a government palace, Secretary Clinton met Egypt's new foreign minister and told him that the U.S. wants to help the Egyptian people.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): In early January, before the protests began, I warned, at a conference in Doha, that the region's foundations were sinking into the sand. But today, because of the Egyptian people, Egypt is rising. Egypt, Uma Dunia, mother of the world is now giving birth to democracy. Congratulations.

KELEMEN: A few Egyptian reporters applauded Secretary Clinton who then announced that the U.S. would give Egypt $90 million in emergency economic aid and would create a $60 million enterprise fund to help Egypt create jobs, something the U.S. did in Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Sec. CLINTON: We know that political reform must be matched by economic reform, that there must be jobs and rising income and opportunities for all.

KELEMEN: Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi seemed pleased with her promises to help Egypt's economy and said they talked about many other changes in the Arab world, from faltering efforts to create a Palestinian state to the crisis in Libya.

Though the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is likely to be more complex now, al-Arabi says the relationship will endure.

Mr. NABIL AL-ARABI (Foreign Minister, Egypt): At least from our part, we appreciated very much the responses from the secretary of state. We are appreciative and we hope the very close relation with the United States will continue to flourish in the future.

KELEMEN: The conflict in Libya was also high on Clinton's agenda. Last night at a Paris hotel, she spent 45 minutes with a representative of Libya's transitional council, Mahmoud Jabril. Her aides say that she got a better sense of the Libyan opposition, though the U.S. and its partners still seem far from offering the kind of support rebels are seeking: a no-fly zone and bombing raids on Moammar Gadhafi's air bases.

At her news conference in Cairo today, she said any response must be an international one.

Sec. CLINTON: We understand the urgency of this and therefore we are upping our humanitarian assistance. We are looking for ways to support the opposition, with whom I met last night. But we believe that this must be an international effort and that there has to be decisions made in the Security Council in order for any of these steps to go forward.

KELEMEN: The Arab League has endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone. U.S. officials want to see Arab countries step up to play a role if such an idea gets international backing. But the U.S. is concerned about Gulf states stepping into another conflict in Bahrain where protesters have been demanding political reforms.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both sent in troops to back up the Bahraini government. Secretary Clinton called her Saudi counterpart to urge restraint.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Cairo.

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