Washington: The United States is asking besieged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to lift the emergency police powers that have safeguarded his iron rule while focusing behind the scenes on elections later this year that could be a chance to achieve a legitimate democracy without Mubarak in control, administration officials said.
Two American officials said the US government would prefer that Mubarak not run for re-election in presidential voting scheduled for September.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of diplomacy and the difficult situation the Obama administration finds itself in.
In public, the administration would say only that elections should be open and fair.
“The United States government does not determine who’s on the ballot,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on Monday.
“The question is whether or not those elections are going to be free and fair, that’s what we would weigh in on and weigh in on strongly,” Gibbs added.
Gibbs dismissed Mubarak’s move on Monday to appoint a new government, saying the situation in Egypt calls for action, not appointments.
Mubarak named a new government in an apparent attempt to defuse the weeklong political upheaval in his country.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have flooded the streets, calling for his ouster.
American officials continued to wrestle with the dilemma of strengthening support for peaceful demonstrations, while not completely undercutting Mubarak, whose close cooperation with the United States on Israeli-Arab peace talks and other issues has made Egypt America’s most important ally in the Arab world.
A coalition of opposition groups has called for a million (m) people to take to Cairo’s streets on Tuesday to demand Mubarak’s removal.
In advance of that rally, White House spokesman Gibbs told reporters, “We have been clear from the outset that grievances will not and cannot be addressed through violence, so I think that message remains clear to the government of Egypt.”
Neither Gibbs nor State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would say what the US thinks Mubarak should do.
Options include that Mubarak would step aside in favour of his newly named deputy Omar Suleiman, or announce that he will not run for re-election in September..
“These are decisions to be made within Egypt by the Egyptian people and the players within this system. It’s not for the United States to anoint any individual who wants to play a role in this process,” Crowley said, adding, “We want to make sure that there’s a process that opens up real political space for Egyptians to make these kinds of determinations.”
Meanwhile, Crowley also confirmed that the Obama administration has sent a retired senior diplomat to Egypt to press the US case for democratic reforms to top Egyptian officials.
The State Department said on Monday that the former ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, was now on the ground in Cairo and would be meeting with Egyptian officials to urge them to embrace broad economic and political changes that could pave the way for free and fair elections.
Crowley said Wisner, who was US ambassador to Egypt from 1986 to 1991, has vast experience in the region as well as close relationships with many Egyptians in and out of government.
Washington is trying to smooth the way for a more representative government in Egypt without alienating pro-democracy protesters or its ally over three decades.
The US is pressing Mubarak to institute a set of reforms as a first step toward meeting the demands of protesters clamouring for his ouster.