- Associated Press - Saturday, February 12, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Egypt’s army led a hoped-for drive to democracy, President Obama sent his senior military adviser to the Mideast to reassure allies Jordan, also facing rumblings of civil unrest, and Israel, which sees its security at stake in a wider Arab world transformation.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, planned meetings Sunday with King Abdullah II and other senior officials in Jordan, the scene of weeks of protests inspired by unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.

Mullen’s schedule for Israel included talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Mullen had no plans to visit Egypt.

Israel is deeply worried about the prospect that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster could lead to a government less friendly to the Jewish state.

Israel and Egypt fought four wars before a peace treaty in 1979. Mubarak, who gave up power Friday after 30 years of rule, steadfastly honored the peace deal after succeeding Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Egyptian extremists two years after signing that agreement.

Netanyahu has warned that any new government in Cairo must maintain thedeal — Israel’s first with an Arab nation.

Egypt’s military rulers announced Saturday that they would abide by international agreements, a move apparently designed to allay concerns in Israel.

Much is at stake for the U.S. as Egypt tries to create a democracy out of the autocratic system over which Mubarak presided, with Washington’s political and financial help.

Both Egypt and Jordan have played leading roles, along with the U.S., in seeking a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, a critical route for global oil shipments.

The U.S. has provided $1.5 billion a year to Egypt, largely in military assistance, and the White House has said the possibility of changing that would depend on how the crisis unfolds.

The assistance has done more than buy tanks, planes and other weaponry for the Egyptian armed forces. It has built a tradition of close ties with the U.S. military establishment. Egyptian officers attend U.S. academies that emphasize the primacy of civilian control in a democracy.

The leading role that Egypt’s military is expected to play in the transition to free elections is likely to make Mullen’s and the U.S. military’s Cairo connections of growing importance in the White House.

The reverberations from Cairo are already being felt in significant ways in other Arab countries that are important U.S. allies.

Jordan’s new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, has promised to continue political reforms demanded by protesters who forced the king to reshuffle his Cabinet. The changes in Amman followed protests by thousands of Jordanians who had demanded jobs, lower food costs and a change to an election law that they say gives government loyalists more seats in parliament.

U.S.-Jordanian military ties are among the strongest in the Arab world. Also, the revelation that a Jordanian intelligence officer was among the victims of a December 2009 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that also killed seven CIA employees pointed to the close and extensive cooperation on counterterrorism between U.S. and Jordanian intelligence agencies.

When he ascended to the throne in 1999, Abdullah said he would press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multiparty system and the suspension of martial law, which had been in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

But little has been done since then.

In Saudi Arabia, a traditional cornerstone of U.S. interests in the Mideast, a group of opposition activists said Thursday they asked the nation’s king for the right to form a political party in a rare challenge to the absolute power of the ruling dynasty.

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a U.S. ally in office for more than three decades, bowed to pressure from protesters and announced last week that he would not seek re-election in 2013 and would not try to pass power to his son.

Yemen, home to a branch of al Qaeda, is an important battleground in the U.S. fight against terrorists.

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