Obama administration out to reassure Mideast allies

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration embarked on a mission to reassure Middle East allies upset by its support for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, even while stressing U.S. backing for political reform in their countries.

A day after Mubarak stepped down in the face of a popular uprising, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other U.S. leaders contacted foreign leaders on Saturday with a carefully calibrated message emphasizing their support for allies — but also the need for them to share more power.

Obama called King Abdullah II of Jordan, along with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and British Prime Minister David Cameron, the White House said.

Obama emphasized U.S. support for reform, saying it was his "conviction that democracy will bring more — not less — stability in the region," the White House said. He also weighed in on the side of stability, affirming the United States' "strong commitment to supporting a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East in close consultation with all our regional partners," the White House said.

Diplomats from other Middle East nations say a top concern for them is how much U.S. support they would receive in the face of antigovernment demonstrations, McClatchy Newspapers reported Saturday. It cited an unnamed Arab diplomat who said leaders in the region didn't miss it when Obama came out to say it was time for Mubarak to go.

U.S. officials have heard from officials in Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf states and Israel about their concerns about the crisis in Egypt, and how the United States was handling it.

Saudi officials have complained for days about the interference of foreign governments in the Egyptian crisis. The White House declined to comment Saturday on a report in the Times of London that Saudi King Abdullah chastised Obama in a Jan. 29 telephone call for failing to offer more support to Mubarak.

Senior Obama administration officials suggested that other governments shouldn't expect too much U.S. help if they fail to make reforms and face mass protests, McClatchy Newspapers reported Saturday, citing unnamed officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Obama offered U.S. help to Egypt for political reform, should Egyptians request it. And he said the United States, which provides $1.5 billion in annual aid, would contribute, along with other world powers, more financial help to Cairo.

Within the administration, there are sharp divisions on how much pressure the United States should exert on allies who help with counterterrorism, Arab-Israel peace efforts, and containing Iran, to name but three joint projects.

Officials have floated the possibility of a significant increase in funding to help countries build opposition parties. Many Mideast governments are made uneasy by such programs, believing that it amounts to help for their political rivals.

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch and an adviser to the administration on Egypt, predicted that Washington's actions in the crisis clearly would affect Mideast governments' relationship with the administration.

"The very fact that the United States did nothing to rescue Mubarak will have an effect on the calculations of other authoritarian leaders in the region," he said.

Obama administration out to reassure Mideast allies 02/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 12, 2011 11:10pm]

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