WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said he was confident that an orderly political transition in Egypt would produce a government that will remain a U.S. partner.
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Obama also said the ideology of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which is President Hosni Mubarak’s best organized opposition group, included anti-U.S. strains.
But the Brotherhood lacked majority support, he said.
“So it’s important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood, or a suppressed Egyptian people,” he said.
“What I want is a representative government in Egypt and I have confidence that if Egypt moves in an orderly transition process, that we’ll have a government in Egypt that we can work with together as a partner.”
Obama said only Mubarak, who took power in 1981, knew if he would leave office soon.
“But here’s what we know — that Egypt is not going to go back to what it was,” the U.S. leader said. “The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, they want a responsible government. So what we have said is you have to start a transition now.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a broad cross-section of Egyptian political forces to be included in talks with the government to make sure that people’s “legitimate aspirations” were met.
In a conversation with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik on Saturday night, Clinton “emphasized the need to ensure that the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people are met, and that a broad cross-section of political actors and civil society have to be a part of the Egyptian-led process,” the State Department said in a statement on Sunday.
Clinton also stressed that incidents of harassment and detention of activists, journalists and other elements of civil society must stop, the statement said. It gave no other details of the conversation.
But she also appeared to soften U.S. pressure on Mubarak to step down.
“We want to see a process begun that will lead to an orderly transition that has milestones and concrete steps that lead us toward free and fair elections,” Clinton told reporters on her airplane on Sunday returning from a Munich security conference.
Egypt’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, a long-time intelligence chief, held unprecedented talks with the Brotherhood, an Islamist group, and other opponents on Sunday as demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, marking a “Day of Martyrs” for those killed in protests, said they would intensify their 12-day battle to end Mubarak’s rule.
Mubarak has vowed to stay on until elections in September.
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said on Sunday he is encouraged by what he described as the rapid and dramatic series of events toward a new Egypt without Mubarak.
Kerry suggested that Mubarak, who last week announced in a nationally broadcast speech said he would not be a candidate for another presidential term, again address the Egyptian people.
Mubarak should “make it clear what the timetable is, precisely what the process is,” Kerry said.
“If that happens, this could actually turn significantly to the good and to the promise of a better outcome,” Kerry said.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Jim Wolf and Andrew Quinn)
Editing by Paul Simao