Today, Deputy Chief of Staff for Secretary Clinton Jake Sullivan and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes held a conference call with reporters in which they sought to clarify the administration’s line on Egypt.
Ben Rhodes reiterated the “three clear messages” — what they called their “three pillars” — the administration has maintained throughout: it expects (1) “nonviolence” and “restraint from the government and the protesters,” (2) “that the universal rights of the Egyptians be respected, including rights to speech and information,” and (3) “a transition that is meaningful, lasting, and immediate…”
He said, “Thus far it’s clear that what they’ve put forward is not yet meeting that threshold of change in the eyes of the Egyptian people,” but that the U.S. will not dictate where the threshold of change lies: “Ultimately the Egyptian people are going to be the ones to make this transition to the future.”
His colleague, Jake Sullivan, said that “the U.S. cannot dictate outcomes in Egypt, but we can stand for both the principles and the practicality of producing an outcome that is consistent with the orderly transition we desire.”
In fact, their only departure from these basic and oft-repeated lines was in batting away the claim that has been circulated that there was dissent within the administration. Some had thought that Secretary Clinton’s speech in Munich last year indicated specific support for Omar Suleiman. Ben Rhodes disagreed:
The Secretary in Munich on Saturday was very clear on what she was saying. She was supporting the process of transition in which as a simple matter of fact VP Suleiman was identified as a key figure on the government’s side… It wasn’t an identification of support for any individual in Egypt, but a support for the change… and she was just stating as a matter of fact that Suleiman was the man conducting the dialog for the government. Following that statement of fact on Saturday, you did have some dialogs… Our response on Monday and Tuesday was in reaction to those statement was that those talks were insufficient, because they didn’t entail commitments for things to do in the future. What we want and what the Egyptians have called for is
When asked whether the U.S. was reaching out the Muslim Brotherhood to incorporate them into the transition process, they said:
We have not had contact with the Muslim Brotherhood throughout this process — what we’ve said is that this process needs to be broadly inclusive. The MB should be part of the broad democratic process, but they’re just one part of that.
Rhodes characterized Joe Biden’s latest phone call with Omar Suleiman:
Yesterday in the Vice President’s call to Suleiman, we identified several areas in which the Egyptian government made several commitments, but needs to follow up on them. So we’ve called attention to the detention of journalists and activists. We’ve called for an end to the emergency law. And we want the opposition to be invited as a partner to lead to free and fair elections that will lead to a better future.
And they were defensive about the progress that already has been made, pushing back against others’ impatience: “a lot has changed in Egypt, just in the last two weeks.”
Other than that, it was a series of patient recitations of the three pillars, and deferrals of all the difficult and specific questions to “the Egyptian people.”