WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday to transfer power to an inclusive caretaker government in a draft resolution that demonstrates broad, unified American concern about Egypt.
Two influential senators who are former candidates for president, Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry, combined to write a proposal that follows President Barack Obama’s demand for a transition in Egypt to begin now.
The measure means that Mubarak, who for years had the confidence of Washington as a Middle East powerbroker, has now seen his image completely shattered in the United States.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned assaults on U.S. journalists covering the chaos in Cairo as concern rose about the possibility of an intensified round of rioting on Friday.
Clinton said the Egyptian government and army have clear responsibility to protect those targeted, and reiterated U.S. demands that the Egyptian government and opposition representatives begin negotiations on a power transition.
A top U.S. intelligence official said intelligence officials had warned of instability in Egypt at the end of last year, but did not foresee the trigger for unrest at that time.
“We have warned of instability. We didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that happened at the end of the last year,” said Stephanie O‘Sullivan, a CIA official nominated to become the principal deputy director of national intelligence.
The draft Senate resolution, which could be approved by the 100-member chamber soon, does not specifically call on Mubarak to resign, although McCain has said he should step down.
Instead, the document calls on Mubarak to immediately begin an “orderly and peaceful transition to a democratic political system.”
This should include “the transfer of power to an inclusive interim government in coordination with leaders from Egypt’s opposition, civil society and military” to enact reforms needed to hold free and fair elections this year.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said Mubarak must take concrete steps toward democratic elections at once -- but on Thursday again stopped short of calling on him to step down immediately.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the attacks on journalists may not be random events.
“It could well be this is in anticipation of events tomorrow ... we are bracing for a significant increase in the number of demonstrators on the streets and with that, given yesterday’s events, the real prospects of a confrontation,” he said.
Crowley said the United States believed elements close to the government or Mubarak’s ruling party were responsible for Wednesday’s widespread violence against protesters.
“I don’t know that we have a sense of how far up the chain it went,” Crowley said.
Clinton was briefed on Thursday by Frank Wisner, the former U.S. diplomat who earlier this week traveled to Cairo to press Mubarak with Obama’s message on the need for an “orderly transition.”
Robert Danin, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said calls for Mubarak’s immediate exit could be misplaced given the fragile state of the opposition movement.
“People are saying Mubarak has to go, Mubarak has to go ... I think we have to be very careful about that. It is easy to call for Mubarak to go immediately, but Egypt is, by Mubarak’s design, a place where the pieces are not in place for the day after,” he said.
Clinton spoke to Jordan’s King Abdullah -- another close U.S. ally -- on Thursday to discuss Egypt and to voice support for his own recent reforms, part of a wave of change by authoritarian governments across the Middle East seeking to head off Egypt-style unrest.
Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn, Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart; editing by Mohammad Zargham