U.S. sends officials to reassure nervous allies

Ruling council says it will run the country for six months or until elections are held; tensions flare as military evicts protesters in Tahrir Square.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 14, 2011; 2:07 AM

AMMAN, JORDAN - Senior U.S. officials held talks over the weekend with King Abdullah II as part of an Obama administration diplomatic offensive in the wake of back-to-back popular uprisings in the Middle East.

The visit is part of an effort to reassure nervous allies in the region while seeking to coordinate with dozens of other countries on a still-unformed strategy for easing Egypt and Tunisia onto a peaceful path toward democracy.

The White House dispatched Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and the State Department's top career diplomat, Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns, to Jordan in a show of support for another key U.S. ally that has been rocked by unrest in recent weeks.

Other top administration officials phoned leaders across South Asia, Europe and the Middle East to solicit advice and begin mapping out a collective plan for navigating a transition period fraught with uncertainty and peril.

U.S. officials say they have offered assistance to Egypt's provisional leaders and are waiting to hear what is needed.

"Obviously, Egypt itself is absorbing what has happened and what needs to occur next," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Sunday. He said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has sought a range of views on how to assist Egypt's political transformation, reaching out to leaders as diverse as Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and Greek President George Papandreou.

"We are speaking with leaders of countries with deep democratic traditions to see how we can be prepared as an international community to support Egypt as its leaders identify what is needed," Crowley said. He described the diplomatic initiative as "an aggressive outreach . . . to ensure that we have shared views."

Vice President Biden separately telephoned leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq over the weekend, a White House official said.

The visit to Jordan by Burns - a former ambassador to country - was intended "to support Jordan's program of reform and help it keep ahead of the unrest in the region," a U.S. official said. Burns met with Abdullah as well as his newly appointed prime minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, to encourage the country's efforts toward political and economic reform, the official said.

Pressured by unrest across the Arab world and street demonstrations at home by Jordanians angered by rising prices and alleged government corruption, Abdullah replaced the prime minister earlier this month and ordered speedy action to reform Jordan's political system and economy.

The United States is urging Abdullah to take tangible steps to address public grievances, a lesson learned from the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose offers of concessions to protesters were rejected as too little, too late. Mullen met separately with Abdullah on Sunday before moving on to Israel, where there is worry that a new Egyptian government could be far less friendly than Mubarak's regime. A Pentagon spokesman said before Mullen's trip that it was meant to "reassure both these key partners of the U.S. military's commitment to that partnership."

The shockwaves of Mubarak's fall have unsettled the Jordanian leadership, which is facing increasing public discontent, although the criticism has not been leveled directly at the monarchy, which is widely seen as a unifying force that has given Jordan stability and security.

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