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ElBaradei criticizes mixed US messages on Egypt

(AFP) / 7 February 2011

WASHINGTON - Leading Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei criticized Washington’s mixed messages Sunday on the crisis roiling the most populous Arab nation and blasted “opaque” political talks in Egypt.

US President Barack Obama’s administration is having to quickly back-pedal after a returning envoy apparently spoke out of turn when he suggested that President Hosni Mubarak should remain in office to manage the transition.

Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not explicitly called for Mubarak to leave immediately but have repeatedly stressed that the United States wants an orderly transition to begin now.

The remarks on Saturday by Frank Wisner, a veteran diplomat who met with Mubarak at Obama’s behest earlier this week, “created a lot of confusion, a lot of disappointment” in Egypt, ElBaradei told CNN.

The bookish Nobel Peace Prize-winning former head of the UN atomic energy agency elaborated more colorfully in another interview. It “came down here like a piece of lead,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

US officials had to change tack earlier in the crisis after Vice President Joe Biden said Mubarak was not a “dictator” and Clinton described the government as “stable.”

Washington gradually hardened its position, calling for an “orderly transition” to “real democracy,” and, as the protests grew bloodier, Obama urged his longtime US ally to begin Egypt’s transition “now.”

But Senator John Kerry, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came to the Obama administration’s defense, insisting the US position has been “crystal clear.”

“The president has been clear, the secretary of state has been clear that the president wants change, he wants it immediately, he wants it to be meaningful and he wants it to be orderly,” Kerry told NBC.

Kerry admitted that Wisner, a former US ambassador to Egypt, had perhaps spoken out of turn.

“I think that Mr. Wisner’s comments just don’t reflect where the administration has been from day one, and that was not the message that he was asked to deliver or did deliver there.”

Egypt’s Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid hit out at what he described as “extremely short-sighted” US “interference.”

“I think it is positive for the rest of the world to support Egypt in making the democratic transition, but I think it is not in the right of... President Obama or the American government or any other government to dictate (to) Egypt what to do,” he told CNN.

ElBaradei returned to Egypt shortly after the anti-Mubarak protests began and has joined demonstrations calling for the president’s ouster. He has positioned himself as an opposition interlocutor but was not invited to join Sunday’s landmark talks between the government and opposition groups.

He suggested that the fledgling negotiations — which included the officially banned Muslim Brotherhood movement — lacked credibility because they were being managed by Mubarak and the military.

“The process is opaque. Nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage,” he told NBC, pointing to the “huge lack of confidence” between demonstrators and the government.

“If you really want to build confidence, you need to engage the rest of the Egyptian people — the civilians.”

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