- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

President Obama on Tuesday praised embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s decision not to stand for re-election in September and urged the nation’s military to “ensure that this time of change is peaceful.”

But even as Mr. Obama rejected any role for outsiders to determine Egypt’s leaders, he laid out several conditions that he said a transitional government should meet.

“An orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” he said in a brief statement from the White House just hours after Mr. Mubarak announced he would not run for reelection in September. “The process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair, and it should result in a government that is not only grounded in democratic principles but that is also responsive to the needs of the Egyptian people.”

It’s not yet clear whether Mr. Mubarak’s announcement will be enough to satisfy throngs of rowdy protesters in the nation’s streets. But it’s surely welcome news for Mr. Obama and his team, who have struggled to grapple with the fast-moving crisis, which has forced them to balance competing objectives of backing a key Middle Eastern ally while staying true to principles of freedom and human rights.

Mr. Obama urged Mr. Mubarak not to seek another term, according to a report in the New York Times Tuesday. Frank Wisner, a retired U.S. diplomat whom the White House dispatched to Cairo, personally delivered the message to the longtime ruler, the paper said.

Mr. Obama, who spoke with Mr. Mubarak for about a half-hour Tuesday afternoon, said he “recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place.”

Mr. Obama’s comments cap a steady, albeit cautious, escalation of rhetoric by administration officials, with the message evolving from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s initial statement that Mr. Mubarak is not a dictator to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s calls on Sunday for an “orderly transition” that meets the democratic needs of the Egyptian people.

But even by Monday, when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that Mr. Mubarak’s naming of a vice president was inadequate — “This is not about appointments; it’s about actions,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters — the administration insisted that it wasn’t advocating for any particular outcome.

In his remarks Tuesday, Mr. Obama said the U.S. will continue to “stand up for democracy and universal rights that all human beings deserve,” citing access to information and the freedoms of speech and assembly.

While he acknowledged that “many questions about Egypt’s future remain unanswered,” Mr. Obama said he’s confident that protesters will “seize the promise of a better future for your children and grandchildren.”

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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