US backing Mubarak's "consigliere" Suleiman in Egypt transition moves

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Washington, Feb 8: The Obama administration appears to be backing Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, and expects him to play a pivotal role in a still uncertain transition process in that country.

After two weeks of recalibrated messages and efforts to keep up with a rapidly evolving situation, Washington is still trying to balance support for some of the basic aspirations for change in Egypt with its concern that the pro-democracy movement could be "hijacked," by Islamic elements like the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The United States, for now at least, is putting stability ahead of democratic ideals, and leaving hopes of nurturing peaceful, gradual change in large part in the hands of Egyptian officials, starting with Suleiman, the New York Times reports.

"The notion that Egypt isn't ready for democracy I think runs quite counter to what we see happening in Tahrir Square and on the streets in cities throughout the country," Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said.

It, however, remains unclear how much leverage President Obama has to keep Suleiman, a Mubarak loyalist, moving toward fundamental change, especially as the authorities begin to reassert control in Egypt.

The United States has certainly had long ties with Suleiman, 74, who headed Egyptian intelligence from 1993 until he was named vice president last month.

For years he has been an important contact for the Central Intelligence Agency and a regular briefer for visiting American officials, who appear to have valued his analysis of Egypt's relations with neighbors and domestic challenges, as diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks make clear.

The cables describe Suleiman as having "an extremely sharp analytical mind" and serving as "the de facto national security adviser with direct responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian account."

One 2009 cable mentions him as a possible successor to Mubarak, to whom he has long been extremely close.

In recent days, US Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. - who has a long relationship with Suleiman from his days on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - has been pressing the latter to come up with a clear road map of democratic reforms, linked to a timetable.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the Obama administration has been responding to a rapidly changing situation in Egypt.

"The facts on the ground are changing every day. Wen you have a situation like this, all you can do is articulate your core principles, like universal rights for all people, and free and fair elections," he said.

ANI

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