MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Obama administration's position on Egypt has been evolving quickly as the crisis has unfolded.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that the administration is suggesting it might cut U.S. assistance to Egypt if the crackdown on protesters continues.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Obama administration officials have carefully calibrated their comments about Egypt this week, supporting the rights of people to protest while reaffirming that Hosni Mubarak's government has been an important ally for the U.S.
But as things turned dangerous today, Secretary Clinton came out with a firmer message to Mubarak's regime: Restrain your security forces and hear out the demands of the many thousands taking to the streets.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society, and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away.
KELEMEN: But is President Mubarak finished? Secretary Clinton avoided answering that very direct question today, saying only, she's been pushing the Egyptian government to implement social and political reforms.
Secretary CLINTON: It is absolutely vital for Egypt to embrace reform, to ensure not just its long-term stability, but also the progress and prosperity that its people richly deserve.
KELEMEN: Some Egypt watchers, though, say the Obama administration is ramping up its rhetoric way too late.
Dr. STEVEN COOK (Senior Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations): Talking about reform, in particular, seems hopelessly behind the curve.
KELEMEN: That's Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, who just got back last night from Cairo. Mubarak's government, he says, has long ignored U.S. calls for reform. No matter what happens, he says, the U.S. relationship with Mubarak will have to change, so the U.S. might as well be as direct with him as possible.
Dr. COOK: And we should be able to say that this is unacceptable to us, as your patron. And we should be able to say it publicly.
KELEMEN: President Obama's comments tonight, though, were more guarded than that. He said he told President Mubarak to follow through on pledges for a better democracy and to stop trying to suppress the voices of protesters.
The Obama administration is now reviewing U.S. aid to Egypt and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says much will depend on how events unfold. He says the U.S. has a long list of concerns - from the communications blackout to the house arrest of the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, who returned to Egypt to join the protesters.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): This is an individual who is a Nobel laureate, who the president knows and has worked with on a host of nuclear security issues as the once head of the IAEA. These are the type of activities that the government has a responsibility to change.
KELEMEN: Egypt's army chief happened to be in Washington for talks as the protests unfolded, but he has now cut short his trip to return. The State Department, meantime, is urging Americans to avoid traveling to Egypt, and says U.S. citizens there should stay put until protests subside, and not try to get to the embassy which is close to Tahrir Square - a focal point for the protests.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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