Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Egypt and Tunisia next week in a bid to buttress the leaders of the transitional governments there, she told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday. She will also be reaching out to opposition groups from Libya.
Clinton said she intends to "convey the strong support of the Obama administration and the American people that we wish to be a partner in the important work that lies ahead as they transition to a genuine democracy." She would be the first Cabinet-level Obama administration official to visit either country since the massive wave of protests swept through the Middle East and Northern Africa.
"We have an enormous stake in ensuring that Egypt and Tunisia provide models for the kind of democracy that we want to see," Clinton said in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee.
The State Department said Clinton will be in Paris on March 14 and 15 to participate in G-8 meetings and meet with her foreign counterparts. She will visit Egypt and Tunisia from March 15 to 17.
Clinton also told the lawmakers that she will be meeting with Libyan opposition figures both in the U.S. and in her travels to the region, "to discuss what more the U.S. and others can do."
"We are working overtime to figure out who are the people who are now claiming to be the opposition -- because we know there are some with whom we'd want to be allied and others with whom we would not. It's a painstaking process," Clinton said.
She drew a clear distinction between Egypt and Tunisia, where leaders stepped down in the face of protests, and Libya, where she said a dictator is denying his people a path to democracy, as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's supporters wage a bloody battle against rebels and protesters calling for the end of his four-decade rule. Qaddafi has said he will "fight to the last drop of blood to defend the Libyan territory inch by inch."
In Egypt and Tunisia, Clinton noted that the social networks that gave rise to the populist protests had rendered the revolutions "leaderless," making it difficult for all sides to figure out with whom to negotiate.
"We are reaching out to everybody we possibly can," she said. In Cairo, the U.S. evacuated families and nonessential personnel but left a "solid team" there, and is "talking to everybody who's been identified as a possible leader," Clinton said.
She also said Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen are in regular contact with Egypt's interim leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. "We are constantly communicating," she said.
The U.S. has pledged $150 million in assistance to help with Egypt's transition. Of that, $90 million will be economic assistance and about $60 million will be dedicated to helping Egypt prepare for elections, set up political parties, and train people, Clinton said.
"But we're going to have to look at some bigger things than that," she added. "I know from my conversations with Egyptians inside and outside the government -- they're not looking to Europe, they're not looking to the Gulf -- although they're happy to have their help, they're looking to us. And I think that's a good thing, and we need to be there to help them."
Clinton also said she will be working to allocate up to $20 million for Tunisia "to respond to some of their needs" after the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. "We need to have a very big commitment to Tunisia that we can be ready to help them economically as well as with their democratic transformation," she said.