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Clinton calls for a peaceful transition to democracy in Egypt

By Tom Cohen, CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: McCain, Schumer back administration's stance so far
  • The U.S. secretary of state gives interviews to 5 Sunday talk shows
  • Clinton stops short of labeling the situation a crisis for the Obama administration
  • The Egyptian military has been restrained so far, Clinton says
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Washington (CNN) -- The "complex, very difficult" situation in Egypt requires careful progress toward a peaceful transition to democracy, rather than any sudden or violent change that could undermine the aspirations of the Egyptian people, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday.

In separate interviews with five Sunday talk shows, Clinton made clear the United States believes that stability in the region is the top immediate priority.

Otherwise, she warned, protesters seeking better opportunity and a stronger political voice might end up facing further repression from new leaders instead of the democratic reforms they seek.

"There's no easy answer," Clinton told CNN's "State of the Union. "And, clearly, increasing chaos or even violence in the streets, prison breaks, which we've had reports about -- that is not the way to go.

"We want to see this peaceful uprising on the part of the Egyptian people to demand their rights to be responded to in a very clear, unambiguous way by the government, and then a process of national dialogue that will lead to the changes that the Egyptian people seek and that they deserve," she said.

No Americans have been killed or injured so far in the unrest in Cairo, Egypt's capital, and other cities, Clinton said on NBC's "Meet the Press." She told ABC's "This Week" program that there was "no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid" to Egypt, a possibility indicated last week by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

In the television interviews, Clinton praised the Egyptian military for a response she described as restrained so far.

"We know they have a delicate line to walk, because they want to protect peaceful protests, but they also don't want to see any city descend into chaos with looting and criminal activity," Clinton said on CNN. "And we are encouraging a very -- a very careful approach that respects the rights of people."

Clinton also acknowledged that the situation was "complex, very difficult" because of U.S. ties with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the main target of protesters.

Egypt "has been a partner of the United States over the last 30 years, has been instrumental in keeping the peace in the Middle East between Egypt and Israel, which is a critical accomplishment that has meant so much to so many people," Clinton told CNN.

Later, she stopped short of labeling the situation in Egypt a crisis for U.S. President Barack Obama's administration when asked by reporters, instead referring to it as a "serious time."

Despite calls by protesters and others for a stronger U.S. stand against Mubarak, Clinton instead advocated a national dialogue in Egypt that would include Mubarak's government and those seeking legitimate economic and democratic reforms.

"What we're trying to do is to help clear the air so that those who remain in power, starting with President Mubarak, with his new vice president, with the new prime minister, will begin a process of reaching out, of creating a dialogue that will bring in peaceful activists and representatives of civil society to, you know, plan a way forward that will meet the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people," Clinton said on CNN.

That will take time, she conceded, adding that "it is unlikely to be done overnight without very grave consequences for everyone involved."

The U.S. position was criticized Sunday by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who returned to Egypt last week as a leading opposition voice.

"Your policy right now is a failed policy, is a policy that is lagging behind, is a policy that is ... having the effect here in Egypt that you are losing whatever (is) left of credibility," ElBaradei told CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

"People need to see that you not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, and people need to understand and believe that you really seriously take democracy, rule of law, freedoms seriously. And to say we have a tight rope that -- and between the people and the dictator, to say that we are asking a dictator who's been in power for 30 years to implement democracy is an oxymoron, frankly," he said.

However, two prominent U.S. senators -- Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York -- told CNN that they support the U.S. response so far.

McCain said the outcome in Egypt will have a "very critical affect" on what happens in other countries in the volatile Middle East, such as Yemen and Jordan, where anti-government protests also have erupted.

Noting that Egyptian presidential elections are scheduled for September, McCain said every effort must be made to make them free and fair so that they serve as a model for a shift to a democratic process in the region.

Schumer concurred, saying if the energy demonstrated on the streets of Cairo and other cities "can be channeled constructively into free and open elections in September where there is some time for some secular opposition parties to germinate, that's probably the ideal outcome."

In her CNN interview, Clinton called the presidential elections scheduled for later this year an "action-enforcing event that is already on the calendar."

"I don't think the Egyptian people want to see what is a very clear effort to obtain political and economic rights turn into any kind of new form of oppression or suppression or violence or letting loose criminal elements," she said. "That's not what they're in the streets protesting for."

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this story.

 
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