WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday welcomed Egypt’s new military rulers’ commitment to civilian rule and respect for all treaties and stressed U.S. support, including financial support, for Egypt.
Obama called foreign leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday to discuss the latest developments in Egypt, the White House said in a statement.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on Friday by a dramatic 18-day uprising that changed the course of history in the key U.S. ally, and left Washington facing deep uncertainty and huge challenges that could have repercussions for its policy across the Middle East.
“The President (Obama) welcomed the historic change that has been made by the Egyptian people, and reaffirmed his admiration for their efforts,” the statement said. “He also welcomed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ announcement today that it is committed to a democratic civilian transition, and will stand by Egypt’s international obligations.”
Washington has walked a fine line since the demonstrations erupted, endorsing the democratic aspirations of the protesters but trying not to encourage upheaval that could spill over into other parts of the oil-rich region.
Saturday’s message from Egypt’s military leaders was clearly meant to soothe concerns in Israel and Washington about Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Egypt was the first Arab nation to make peace with the Jewish state.
Egypt’s strategic importance to the United States includes its role in Middle East peace efforts since the peace accord with Israel, as guardian of the Suez Canal and as a counterweight to Iran.
Obama stressed Washington’s commitment to provide support “necessary and requested” by the people of Egypt to pursue a credible and orderly transition to democracy, including working with international partners to provide financial support.
“The president emphasized his conviction that democracy will bring more — not less — stability to the region,” the U.S. statement said.
Egypt’s military, which relies on $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid, is seen as the key to keeping the situation in the Arab world’s most populous country from descending into chaos.
The U.S. military has close ties to Egyptian forces and Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that took control in Egypt, has spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates by phone at least five times during the wave of mass protests, including as late as Thursday evening.
Obama, Cameron and Abdullah agreed to work closely together, and agreed on the importance of a peaceful transition to a democratic government responsive to the needs of the Egyptian people, the White House said.
Obama reaffirmed the strong U.S. commitment to supporting a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East in close consultation with all of its regional partners.
U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns visited Jordan on Friday and Saturday and discussed the situation in Egypt, among other matters, the U.S. Statement Department said.
After the Egyptian army statement, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is viewed warily by the United States, said it was not seeking power and praised the army’s plans to transfer power to civilians.
Washington has also used the change in Egypt to take jabs at Iran. On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden contrasted the changes in Cairo with the tight government control in the Islamic republic, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said an Iranian clampdown on media coverage of Egypt showed the authorities in Tehran were scared of their own people.
Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, called on Iran “to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and communicate that’s being exercised in Cairo.”
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Todd Eastham