miércoles, 9 de febrero de 2011

Advertise on NYTimes.com Allies Press U.S. to Go Slow on Egypt


WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration gropes for the right response to the uprising in Egypt, it has not lacked for advice from democracy advocates, academics, pundits, even members of the previous administration. But few voices have been as urgent, insistent or persuasive as those of Egypt’s neighbors.  Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have each repeatedly pressed the United States not to cut loose Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, too hastily, or to throw its weight behind the democracy movement in a way that could further destabilize the region, diplomats say. One Middle Eastern envoy said that on a single day, he spent 12 hours on the phone with American officials.

There is evidence that the pressure has paid off. On Saturday, just days after suggesting that it wanted immediate change, the administration said it would support an “orderly transition” managed by Vice President Omar Suleiman. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that Mr. Mubarak’s immediate resignation might complicate, rather than clear, Egypt’s path to democracy, given the requirements of Egypt’s Constitution.

“Everyone is taking a little breath,” said a diplomat from the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing private conversations. “There’s a sense that we’re getting our message through.”

While each country has its own concerns, all worry that a sudden, chaotic change in Egypt would destabilize the region or, in the Arab nations, even jeopardize their own leaders, many of whom are also autocrats facing restive populations.

Middle East allies are only one of several constituencies the administration needs to reckon with as it responds to the turmoil in Egypt. And they are less central to its calculations than either the Egyptian government or the demonstrators — opposing forces the United States has been struggling to balance.

Yet the allies cannot be ignored, officials said, since they, too, are vital to the United States, whether as suppliers of oil, like Saudi Arabia, or as partners with political influence in Washington, like Israel.

“I understand the concerns of everybody in the region,” Mrs. Clinton said Sunday. She said that she had spoken to King Abdullah II of Jordan and that President Obama had made calls to other leaders. State Department officials, she said, were constantly speaking with their counterparts in the region.

Administration officials said the tense mood in many of these countries had eased in recent days, as the United States has embraced a transition process in Egypt that does not demand Mr. Mubarak’s immediate departure.

Still, on Tuesday, the administration stiffened its public message to Mr. Suleiman, with the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, saying that the Egyptian vice president “made some particularly unhelpful comments about Egypt not being ready for democracy, about not seeing a lift of the emergency law.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. conveyed that message in a call to Mr. Suleiman, the White House said, urging him to take specific steps toward democracy. The strong language from Mr. Gibbs followed some criticism of the administration from Egyptian protesters and their foreign supporters that its public statements had been contradictory and equivocal.

On Monday, a diverse group of American specialists on Egypt and the Middle East wrote to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton expressing concern that the United States “may acquiesce to an inadequate and possibly fraudulent transitional process in Egypt.”

On Wednesday, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, is to meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in Washington. The meeting, which Israeli officials said came at Mr. Barak’s request, will be the first face-to-face contact between top Israeli and American officials since the Egyptian uprising began.

Israeli officials, who have long viewed Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Suleiman as stabilizing influences in a dangerous region, have made clear to the administration that they support evolution rather than revolution in Egypt. They believe it is important to make changes within the system rather than change the system first and hope stability can be maintained, a senior Israeli official said.

Mr. Suleiman is a longstanding Egyptian contact for the Israelis, and as a 2008 cable made public by WikiLeaks showed, he has been the Israeli government’s preferred successor to Mr. Mubarak for several years.

“There is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect” of Mr. Suleiman as the successor, the cable from Tel Aviv reported.

Arab leaders have similar concerns. Speaking to Mr. Obama on Sunday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the Emirates’ defense chief, emphasized the need for “stability” in Egypt, according to a statement put out by the United Arab Emirates after the call. The crown prince “also stressed the necessity that the period of transition in Egypt should be smooth and organized through the framework of national institutions,” it said.

Mr. Obama also spoke last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The Arab leaders all had the same message for the United States, several Arab officials said. They thought Mr. Obama went too far last Tuesday when he said that Mr. Mubarak needed to begin the transition in Egypt “now” — followed a day later by Mr. Gibbs’s declaration that “now means yesterday.”

“We have been adamant that forcing Mubarak out risks instability,” said one Arab official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing private exchanges. In conversations with the Obama administration, Arab officials have raised the specter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which some say has begun to hijack the protests that began among largely secular young people in Egypt adept at using Facebook and Twitter.

One Arab diplomat likened the democracy movement to a train fueled by university students and human rights advocates.

“Eventually, those students will have to get off that train and go back to school, and the human rights people will have to go back to work, and you know who will be on the train when it finally rolls into the station?” the diplomat asked. “The Muslim Brotherhood.”

Mrs. Clinton said the best way for Arab countries to protect themselves was to begin addressing the grievances of their people. Noting that she warned about the need for reform in the Arab world in Qatar last month, she said, “I could not have been clearer about our concerns for all of these governments.”

Israel, despite its deep anxiety about Egypt, has generally heeded the requests of administration officials not to inject itself into the debate. “Israel has been very wise to be low-key,” Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Kerry, who has also talked to Arab leaders, said the crisis in Egypt had caused American allies to question “what sort of longevity there is to the notion of alliances.” But, he added, “they have to understand: this is not us making some kind of decision; this is the people of Egypt making a decision.”