- Associated Press - Sunday, February 6, 2011

MUNICH (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday the Obama administration supports the transition to a new government now moving forward in Egypt but that it must be up to the Egyptian people to decide if the reforms go far enough.

With mass protests now in their 13th day, Mrs. Clinton said the United States is encouraging talks between opposition leaders and Vice President Omar Suleiman aimed at ending the country’s political crisis.

But she withheld judgment on the decision by the Muslim Brotherhood to enter into discussions with the embattled government. The fundamentalist group said it would insist that President Hosni Mubarak, an authoritarian leader who’s been in power for nearly three decades, step aside immediately.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Mrs. Clinton said the United States has been clear about what it expects as Egypt moves toward a new government.

“The Egyptian people are looking for an orderly transition that can lead to free and fair elections,” she said. “That’s what the United States has consistently supported. We are putting a lot into making sure the dialogue process that has begun is meaningful and transparent and leads to concrete actions.”

The people of Egypt and the leaders of the various opposition groups would “ultimately determine if it is or is not meeting their needs,” she said.

The transition should be as inclusive and transparent as possible, Mrs. Clinton said.

While remaining noncommittal about the Brotherhood’s entry into the talks, she said “at least they are now involved in the dialogue.”

“We are going to wait and see how this develops,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton’s comment suggests the administration would be willing to work with a government that includes the Brotherhood, but only if certain conditions were met.

The group has been outlawed since 1954, and the talks would be the first known discussions between the government and the Brotherhood in years.

In Washington, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, hailed the Egyptian government’s talks with the Brotherhood and other opposition groups as “quite extraordinary.”

Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged Mr. Mubarak to lay out a timetable for transition and new elections in a second major address to his people.

“He must step aside gracefully and begin the process of transition to a caretaker government,” Mr. Kerry said. “I believe that is happening right now,” but he said what’s needed is clarity in the process.

Leading democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei criticized the talks as “opaque” and “managed by the military.” Also speaking on NBC, he said he had not been invited to them, and he warned that Egyptians still fear “that the government will retrench and come back with a vengeance.”

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