President Obama is “very concerned” that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may not begin the process or an orderly transfer of power as quickly as he needs to, administration officials tell ABC News.
The administration is very worried about the potential for this crisis, “to turn even uglier if Mubarak doesn’t begin the transfer of power now,” one official said.
U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey is leading discussions and conveying U.S. wishes for the process to begin as soon as possible. Special envoy to Egypt Frank Wisner is returning from Cairo, with an administration official saying he was no longer able to be as effective a conduit to President Mubarak after their private conversations had been made public.
One official described the administration’s public stance on the issue as having had to change “every twelve hours” as events in Cairo has developed so rapidly.
“First it was ‘negotiate with the opposition,’ then events overtook that, the it was ‘orderly transition,’ and events overtook that, then it was ‘You and your son can’t run,’ and events overtook that, and now it’s ‘the process has to begin now,’” the official said. “It’s been crawl-walk-run – we had to increase the pace as events required.”
Tuesday night President Obama said the process needed to begin “now.” Today White House press secretary Robert Gibbs elaborated that “now means yesterday.”
Gibbs emphasized that the September presidential elections are not soon enough for action – meaning Mubarak cannot hold on to power until then, as he seemed to indicate was the plan.
“If you're asking me if ‘now’ is September, it is unseasonably warm, but it is not September. Now means now,” Gibbs said. “I think the people of Egypt -- they do not want to see appointments, they do not want to see speeches. They want to see concrete action by their government. And I think that that's what the world waits for. “
State Department spokesman PJ Crowley repeated that point today, saying, “Our advice to Egypt, publicly and privately, is this can no longer wait. This has to start now. We believe that more needs to be done. We believe that more needs to be done, you know, faster. The longer that this goes unresolved, the greater the danger of further violence. And it is imperative that this process begin now”
Mubarak was described as being alternately sanguine and defiant in his conversation with President Obama last night, though it was described by one official as being very different from their conversation Friday night when Mubarak blamed the protests on the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and assured President Obama the situation was under control.
Needless to say, it wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.
The Obama administration is also very concerned that no matter what interim government in Egypt comes next, the situation for the US could get worse not better. Administration officials are worried about continued Egyptian cooperation on matters such as counterterrorism, upholding the Camp David accords, access to the Suez canal, combating the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, and standing against Iran. Officials say it’s difficult to see how whatever comes in the interim for the Egyptian government will end up being better for the US on those issues.
Other worries include the spread of the contagion of chaos into countries such as Jordan. Some in the administration are weighing how will recent US actions will be perceived by US allies in terms of the lack of support for Mubarak.
Wisner, the former Ambassador to Egypt during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, was sent to Cairo on Sunday at the suggestion of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because of his close relationship with Mubarak. But their back-channel conversations became no longer useful, an administration official said, after they found their way into the media.