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US in talks to pave way for Mubarak to step down now

New York Times / February 4, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and to turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said yesterday.

Even though Mubarak has balked at leaving now, officials from both governments are continuing talks about a plan in which Suleiman, backed by Lieutenant General Sami Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform.

The proposal also calls for the transitional government to invite members from a range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country’s electoral system in an effort to bring about free elections in September, the officials said.

Senior administration officials said the proposal was one of several options under discussion with high-level Egyptian officials around Mubarak in an effort to persuade the president to step down now.

They cautioned that the outcome depended on several factors, not least Egypt’s own constitutional protocols and the mood of the protesters on the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

Some officials said there was not yet any indication that Suleiman or the Egyptian military was willing to abandon Mubarak.

Even as the Obama administration is coalescing around a Mubarak-must-go-now posture in private conversations with Egyptian officials, Mubarak himself remains determined to stay until the election in September, US and Egyptian officials said. His supporters pushed back yesterday against what they viewed as US interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“What they’re asking cannot be done,’’ one Egyptian official said, citing clauses in the Egyptian Constitution that bar the vice president from assuming power.

Under the Constitution, the speaker of Parliament would succeed the president.

“That’s my technical answer,’’ the official added. “My political answer is they should mind their own business.’’

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