The Obama administration on Sunday delicately avoided taking sides in the political uprising in Egypt, calling instead for an “orderly transition” of government to advance democracy and improve the economy, and for an end to the county’s destructive and deadly street protests.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who spoke on every major morning political talk show, acknowledged a “complex, very difficult situation” but said the administration is not calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign.
She also asked the Egyptian government to allow peaceful protests to replace the rioting in the streets of Cairo, in which property has been destroyed and roughly 100 people have died.
“Clearly, what we don’t want is this chaos,” Mrs. Clinton said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Though Mrs. Clinton stopped short of giving Mr. Mubarak unconditional backing, she made clear that he has been an “important partner” for the United States.
“This is a government that made and kept a peace with Israel that was incredibly important — avoiding violence, turmoil, death in the region,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Mrs. Clinton said Egypt must make an “orderly transition” but said the U.S. has asked Egypt for more than 30 years to move toward a more democratic society, including free and fair elections.
Over the weekend, President Mubarak fired his Cabinet and promoted the country’s intelligence chief to vice president. However, Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said via his Twitter account Saturday that the Egyptian government cannot just “reshuffle the deck, then stand pat.”
As the violent protests continue, the State Department said Sunday it is prepared to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens on chartered planes. The agency said it has relied largely on family and friends to relay the messages in part because Internet services have been disrupted in Egypt.
Assistant Secretary of State Janice Jacobs told reporters that she expects several flights over the coming days will be needed to handle the number of Americans who want to leave Egypt. The charters will begin Monday from Cairo and will fly to Europe.
On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders said they were satisfied with how the administration was handling the situation.
“I think the administration so far has handled this tense situation pretty well,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Clearly, reforms need to occur in Egypt, and frankly, any place around the world where people are calling out for freedom and democracy I think we have a responsibility to respond.”
He also supported Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, head of the House Republican Policy Committee, who said the U.S. must stand by its ally Egypt because an imperfect government capable of reform is better than Islamic radicals taking over that country.
However, Arizona Sen. John McCain warned Egypt against another Tiananmen Square, the center of Beijing where Chinese police in 1989 opened fire on pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds.
The White House says President Obama has talked over the weekend with world leaders about the crisis in Egypt.
Mr. Obama spoke Sunday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, restating his opposition to violence and calling for restraint, the White House said.
Mr. Obama has also stated his support for universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and free speech. Mr. Obama also said he supports an “orderly transition” to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, according to the White House.
On Saturday, the president spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Obama also asked the leaders for their assessment of the situation and agreed to stay in close contact going forward, the White House said.
Former President Jimmy Carter, who brokered the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978, on Sunday called the political unrest and rioting in Egypt earth-shaking and said Mr. Mubarak probably will have to step down.
Mr. Carter told a Sunday school class that he teaches in his native Georgia that the unrest is “the most profound situation in the Middle East” since he left office in 1981.