Egyptian President Mubarak’s decision to step down from power is “obviously a welcome step,” a U.S. official involved in the Egypt discussions said Friday.
Now comes “an unpredictable next chapter,” the official added.
The official told CNN Mubarak’s decision is “a sign the (Egyptian) military chose society” over the longtime ruler.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, issued a statement urging a peaceful transition of power for the longtime U.S. ally.
“I am pleased that President Mubarak has heard and heeded the voice of the Egyptian people, who have called for change,” Reid said. But “it is crucial that Mubarak’s departure be an orderly one and that it leads to true democracy for Egypt, including free, fair and open elections.”
“We caution all sides against violence during this transition,” he added.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to discuss the developments at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Obama was in a meeting in the Oval Office when he learned that Mubarak was stepping down, said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Obama watched television coverage of the events in Egypt for several minutes afterward, Vietor said.
U.S. defense officials were not given any advanced warning of Mubarak’s resignation and were not sure it would happen.
As Obama administration officials began to react, Washington was using a variety of intelligence assets to see what is happening in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, CNN has learned.
The U.S. military and intelligence community are using “national technical means” in the skies over Egypt to gather information about the demonstrations and the deployment of Egyptian security forces.
The phrase “national technical means” is used by the U.S. government to generally refer to the use of reconnaissance satellites to gather imagery or signals intelligence.
A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the operation confirmed the intelligence gathering, but declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
The official declined to say to what extent the Egyptian government is aware of the activity. The official would not say specifically which intelligence gathering elements were being used, but indicated operations were being conducted in a manner that would not be visible to the Egyptian populace.
The official said the decision to use intelligence gathering assets came in part after the initial violence erupted in the early days of the Cairo demonstrations. CNN
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