As the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood joined other opposition groups today in meeting with the Egyptian vice president about democratic reforms, current and former U.S. officials suggested a turning point in the crisis and downplayed remarks by a U.S. envoy who met with President Hosni Mubarak and suggested that he should stay put.
The talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman, endorsed by the Obama administration to lead a transition government, included the eventual lifting of the country's repressive emergency laws, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“The news from Egypt about the meetings today with Vice President Suleiman is, frankly, quite extraordinary,’’ he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
His optimism was echoed by John Negroponte, a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, who said on CNN’s State of the Union: “It seems to me that the momentum of events now may have a shift. We may have just had an inflection point today.’’
But the question remains as to whether Mubarak will acquiesce to the demands from tens of thousands of street protesters in Cairo that he step down immediately. Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said today that Mubarak would not leave before his term ends in September.
While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have called for an immediate transfer of power, Frank Wisner, a retired ambassador sent to meet with Mubarak last week, told a Munich security conference on Saturday, “The president must stay in office in order to steer those changes through.’’ Wisner’s comments prompted criticism that the Obama administration is sending mixed messages.
Kerry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joined a growing chorus today trying to distance the administration from Wisner.
"I think that the administration has been walking a very delicate line quite well. It's difficult," said Albright, who served in the administration of Clinton’s husband, to CNN’s Candy Crowley. “Now, as far as Ambassador Wisner is concerned, I think he had an assignment to go there. I don't know how the rest of the relationship has gone, but he clearly -- that was his view. It is not the administration view.’’
Another former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Edward Walker, argued that Mubarak is becoming less relevant in light of the fresh statement from Suleiman promising freedom of the press and constitutional amendments.
“You can't ignore the factor of Mubarak, but we can fixate on it too much,’’ he said on CNN. “I think that the administration has to really start focusing on this kind of document they came out with this morning. This came from the government, and it's revolutionary.’’
He and Negroponte both defended the administration’s failure to detect the uprising in Egypt in advance.
“I think it is cliche, but hindsight is 20/20 vision, and any surprise you look at from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, when you reconstruct events, things look a lot more obvious and a lot more inevitable,’’ Negroponte said. “At the time they are happening, what you get is you get signals, no question about it, but they are lost in a lot of noise, and sometimes picking the right signals out of all of that noise isn't that easy of a thing to do.’’
He added: "I just wouldn't want to see this labeled as some kind of an intelligence failure on our part, perhaps not as good analysis as -- of trends and events as we perhaps could have had, but I wouldn't call it an intelligence failure."