Updated at 2:50 p.m. on January 30.
Reflecting Washington’s uncertainty about how to tackle the populist uprising in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today insisted American interests jibe with the protesters calling for new leadership and further decoupled the Obama administration from President Hosni Mubarak.
Clinton stopped short of advocating that Mubarak relinquish power but did call for “an orderly transition to meet the democratic and economic needs of the people.”
“I think that there are many, many steps that have to be taken, and it’s not a question of who retains power,” Clinton said on NBC's Meet the Press, adding, “Clearly, the path that has been followed has not been one that has created that democratic future.”
Asked by host David Gregory whether she would still label the Mubarak regime stable, Clinton replied, “I’m not going to get into either/or choices.”
Pressed on whether the U.S. would offer Mubarak sanctuary if he were deposed, Clinton said, “We are only at the beginning of what is unfolding in Egypt.”
The White House said in a statement Sunday that President Obama spoke by phone this weekend with the prime ministers of Turkey, Israel and the United Kingdom, and with the King of Saudi Arabia about the situation in Iraq.
The fast-moving change in Egypt, viewed in America through television and Internet video scenes of violent and chaotic protests in the streets, has forced the U.S. to tailor dramatically its engagement with an ally of three decades.
Clinton today said the United States wanted political and economic reforms, praised the Egyptian army as a respected institution, and called for an “orderly transition” that would obviate a power vacuum that could lead to radicalized leadership of the longtime U.S. ally. She said the U.S. has not moved toward shutting off roughly $1.5 billion in aid to the country.
“We have been very clear that we want to see a transition to democracy and we want to see the kind of steps taken that will bring that about,” Clinton said on Fox News Sunday. “We also want to see an orderly transition... so that no one fills a void, that there not be a void.”
Earlier Sunday, the American embassy in Cairo announced evacuation flights for American citizens seeking to leave voluntarily and encouraged them to consider leaving as soon as possible.
The United States has been delicately and constantly refining its response to the Egyptian turmoil, loath to appear resistant to democracy but evidently fearful that a regime change in Cairo could result in a less willing partner.
Following Clinton on Fox News, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sounded a note of support for the Obama administration.
“I think the administration, our administration so far, has handled this tense situation pretty well,” Boehner told host Chris Wallace. “Clearly, reforms need to occur in Egypt.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also shied from faulting the administration, saying, “I don’t have any criticism of President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point.... I think we ought to speak as one voice here in this crisis.”
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the administration should have more aggressively pushed for democratization.
During her tour of the Sunday news shows, Clinton insisted the U.S. position had been consistent, despite the administration’s rapid backpedaling from support last week for Mubarak. Since taking power in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar el-Sadat, Mubarak has been a consistent U.S. ally, helping fashion Egypt into what Clinton called "our partner" in a regional peace process.