Obama urges Mubarak to begin transition now


U.S. President Barack Obama is urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to immediately begin the process of handing over power, but the U.S. leader stopped short of calling for Mr. Mubarak to leave office right now.

Mr. Obama said the future of Egypt must be determined by its people. He said the world is watching the events in Egypt and said this moment of turmoil should be turned into a moment of opportunity.

He spoke Friday in a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Mr. Obama condemned violence between supporters of President Mubarak and opposition protesters.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier that Mr. Mubarak needs to make real and legitimate efforts to reach an agreement with those outside the government.

White House officials have been talking with Egyptian officials about forming a temporary government to prepare Egypt for new elections.

Earlier reports citing U.S. officials said the U.S. government and Egyptian officials were holding talks on a proposal for Mr. Mubarak to resign immediately and turn power over to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.

Suleiman has offered to meet with Egyptian political leaders to discuss such a transitional government.

A senior U.S. State Department official said a scenario “under active discussion” is the prospect of Mr. Mubarak stepping down and taking up residence in Sharm el-Sheikh, on the Red Sea at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.

Mr. Mubarak has recently said he will not go into exile and wants to die on Egyptian soil.

President Obama also spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by telephone Friday about the situation in Egypt.

The White House also defended the intelligence community against critics who say it did not give Mr. Obama adequate warning of the brewing unrest in the Middle East. Gibbs said President Obama received accurate and timely intelligence on the situation in the region.

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the talks with Egypt include a proposal for a transitional government to invite members from opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work on opening the country’s electoral system for free and fair elections in September.

The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, cautioned Friday against any move to cut the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt. Mullen also said he has been assured by his Egyptian counterpart that troops will not fire on protesters.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution late Thursday calling on President Mubarak to immediately begin a peaceful transition to a democratic political system. The resolution, co-sponsored by Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry, also expresses “deep concern” over any organization with an extremist ideology, including the Muslim Brotherhood. VOA