Allies warn Obama about perils of hasty reforms

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AMMAN, Jordan | Some of America’s Middle East allies are pressing the Obama administration to go easy on Egypt’s embattled leader and allow for a gradual transition of power.

Moderate Arab countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia have warned Washington that an abrupt departure of Hosni Mubarak, as demanded by Egyptian anti-government demonstrators, could strengthen militants and destabilize U.S.-backed regimes in the region.

The latest flurry of diplomatic contacts, including dozens of phone conversations between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and top U.S. officials, signal growing tensions between the Obama administration and its regional allies since the outbreak of the Egyptian uprising.

The United States has urged its Middle East allies to be more responsive to domestic calls for reform that have intensified since protests against the Mubarak regime first erupted on Jan. 25. Arab leaders, in turn, worry that Washington will pressure them into making what they consider dangerous concessions.

In recent days, Arab leaders and diplomats have cautioned Washington against pushing for rapid change in Egypt.

King Abdullah told President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other U.S. officials that there “must be a quiet and peaceful transition of power in Egypt,” a Jordanian official said.

The monarch argued that Egypt’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, should be allowed to introduce needed reforms before Mr. Mubarak’s term ends in September, the official said. “We’ve communicated our message very clearly, and we believe that it got through.”

Others, such as oil powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, also cautioned the United States that a hasty departure by Mr. Mubarak could undermine U.S. interests, said a senior Arab diplomat based in Jordan. Like the Jordanian official, he insisted on anonymity, citing private conversations with U.S. officials.

Earlier this week, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, told Mr. Obama that the United Arab Emirates is eager for a smooth transition in Egypt, in line with constitutional requirements.

The Obama administration has sent at times conflicting messages about how it envisions a transfer of power in Egypt, after nearly 30 years of rule by Mr. Mubarak, a staunch U.S. ally. The White House has called for immediate steps toward transition, though not Mr. Mubarak’s resignation. Mrs. Clinton, citing restraints by Egypt’s constitution, has said that his early departure could imperil reforms.

“I don’t think the Americans understand yet the disaster they have pushed the Middle East into,” said lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Mr. Mubarak’s longtime friend and a former Israeli Cabinet minister.

“If there are elections like the Americans want, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Muslim Brotherhood wins a majority.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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