US pushes for political "roadmap" in Egypt
The White House urged Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman on Tuesday to work with opposition groups to forge a "roadmap" for a political transition.
US Vice President Joe Biden again spoke with Suleiman to reiterate that an "orderly transition" must take place, the White House said.
Biden told Suleiman the process should include halting arrests of protesters and journalists, ending the emergency law, diversifying the dialogue to include all segments of society, and working with the opposition to develop "a roadmap and timetable for transition," the White House said.
"Vice President Biden expressed the belief that the demands of the broad opposition can be met through meaningful negotiations with the government," the White House statement said, adding Biden urged Suleiman to take "immediate action to follow through on its commitments."
The United States has reached out to Suleiman in the transition process that was set in motion when longtime President Hosny Mubarak, facing mass protests and growing unrest, announced February 1 that he would relinquish power when his term expires in September. But the protests have continued, demanding his immediate resignation, dpa reported.
At the same time, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs criticized Suleiman, saying the vice president must be prepared to accept the Egyptian people's desire for democracy.
"Vice President Suleiman made some particularly unhelpful comments about Egypt not being ready for democracy, about not seeing a lift of the emergency law," Gibbs told reporters Tuesday.
"I don't think that in any way squares with what those seeking greater opportunity and freedom think is a timetable for progress," Gibbs said, adding it was "unacceptable in this process."
Gibbs would not say whether the White would allow Mubarak to come to the US if he decides to flee Egypt. "Getting into that sort of hypothetical at this point doesn't make a lot of sense," Gibbs said.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates praised the Egyptian military for its "exemplary" response to the political turmoil and urged the government to stay on the reform track.
Gates said the Egyptian military's approach to the crisis has enhanced the democratic movement since it erupted on the streets of Cairo and other cities more than two weeks ago.
"The Egyptian military has conducted itself in an exemplary fashion during this entire episode," Gates said. "And they have acted with great restraint."
As the unrest broke out, the US warned that it could cut off its 1.3 billion dollars in annual aid to the Egyptian military if a violent crackdown against protesters took place. Gates said he has spoken several times with Egyptian counterpart, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.
Gates said the implementation of political and economic reforms needs to be enacted at "a steady pace."
"Continuing to move forward with this and fulfill the promises that have been made is quite critical," Gates said at a short press conference with French Defence Minister Alain Juppe.
The two defence chiefs met to sign an agreement to strengthen cooperation in space but also discussed the situation in Egypt. Juppe said France will support democratic governments in Egypt and Tunisia, which has also been the site of democratic protests.
"We are ready to support whatever decision they make," he said through a translator.