Video: U.S. wants ‘free, fair’ Egypt elections, says Clinton

  1. Transcript of: U.S. wants ‘free, fair’ Egypt elections, says Clinton

    MR. GREGORY: Good morning. Day six of the unrest in Egypt . Protests now giving way to arson and looting. Defiant Egyptians taking over the streets as the military does little to hold back the tens of thousands of demonstrators. Estimates of more than 100 people killed this morning, and President Hosni Mubarak clinging to power after firing his Cabinet and installing the country's intelligence chief as vice president. Here with me now for the very latest on the crisis, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton . Madam Secretary , welcome back to MEET THE PRESS .

    SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you very much , David .

    MR. GREGORY: I know our time with you is limited. Let me get right to it. On Monday you said that the Egyptian government was stable and was looking for ways to respond to the wishes of the people. Have you changed your view?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: You know, David , this is a very volatile situation, and I think that, as we monitor it closely, we continue to urge the Egyptian government , as the United States has for 30 years, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and begin to take concrete steps to implement democratic and economic reform . At the same time, we recognize that we have to deal with the situation as it is. And we are heartened by what we hear from our contacts that at least thus far the army has been trying to bring a sense of order without violence. And we have to make a distinction, as they are attempting to do, between peaceful protesters whose aspirations need to be addressed, and then those who take advantage of such a situation for looting or other criminal activity.

    MR. GREGORY: But...

    SEC'Y CLINTON: And we, we have a very clear message . Long-term stability rests on responding to the legitimate needs of the Egyptian people , and that is what we want to see happen.

    MR. GREGORY: Are you calling the regime of Hosni Mubarak stable this morning?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: You know, I'm not going to get into, you know, either/or choices. What we're saying is that any efforts by this government to respond to the needs of their people, to take steps that will result in a peaceful, orderly transition to a democratic regime is what is in the best interests of everyone, including the current government .

    MR. GREGORY: You've talked about the steps that are necessary for the regime to take in order to really respond to the wishes of the people. Your spokesman, P.J. Crowley , put on Twitter yesterday that "the Egyptian government can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat. President Mubarak 's words pledging reform must be followed by action." Are you calling upon Egypt to call for free and fair elections ? And would you ask Mubarak to say unequivocally that he will not run?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: We have been urging free and fair election for many years. I mean, I do think it's important to recognize that through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, America 's message has been consistent. We want to see free and fair elections , and we expect that that will be one of the outcomes of what is going on in Egypt right now. So we have been sending that message over and over again, publicly and privately, and we continue to do so.

    MR. GREGORY: But is it -- is the only way that Mubarak stays in power for now is if he calls immediately for free and fair elections and pledges that he will not run?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: David , these, these issues are up to the Egyptian people , and they have to make these decisions. But our position is very clear. We have urged for 30 years that there be a vice president, and finally a vice president was announced just a day or two ago. So we have tried to, in our partnership with Egypt , to make the point over and over again about what will create a better pathway for the Egyptian people in terms of greater participation, with political reforms, and greater economic opportunity. You know, I spoke about this very clearly in Doha , it, it seems like a long time ago, but, you know, just about two weeks ago, where I outlined that whatever was possible in the 20th century is no longer possible for regimes in the 21st century . The world is moving too fast. There is too much information. People's aspirations and certainly the rise of middle classes throughout the world demand responsive participatory government . And that is what we expect to see happen.

    MR. GREGORY: But I just want to pin you down on this, Secretary Clinton , do you think that the Mubarak regime has taken the necessary steps to retain power ?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: Oh, I think that there are many, many steps that have to be taken. And it's not a question of who retains power . That should not be the issue. It's how are we going to respond to the legitimate needs and grievances expressed by the Egyptian people and chart a new path? Clearly, the path that has been followed has not been one that has created that democratic future, that economic opportunity that people in the peaceful protests are seeking. So it's our very strong advice, which we have delivered -- President Obama spoke with President Mubarak , I've spoken with my counterpart, Secretary Gates has spoken with his. This is an ongoing conversation that American officials have had for 30 years. Now is the time to move toward a national dialogue, to take concrete steps, to create the political space for peaceful protest and for the creation of peaceful oppositions that want to help work toward a better future. That is what we want to see.

    MR. GREGORY: Should Mubarak lose power ? Would the United States offer him sanctuary?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: You know, I, I believe strongly that we are only at the beginning of what is unfolding in Egypt . I'm not going to go into hypotheticals and speculation other than to say that President Mubarak and his government have been an important partner to the United States . I mean, let's not, you know, just focus on today. This is a government that made and kept a peace with Israel that was incredibly important, avoiding violence, turmoil, death in the region. But so much more has to be done, and that is what we are urging.

    MR. GREGORY: But you'd like to see him stay in power ?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: David , you cannot keep trying to put words in my mouth. I've never said that. I don't intend to say that. I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy , not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people. We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society. And we believe that President Mubarak , his government , civil society , political activists, need to be part of a national dialogue to bring that about.

    MR. GREGORY: Before you go, are Americans in danger in Egypt ?

    SEC'Y CLINTON: We're working closely with the Egyptian government to ensure the safety of American citizens . We have authorized a voluntary departure. We are reaching out to American citizens . As I'm speaking to you at this point, thankfully, we do not have any reports of any American citizens killed or injured. We want to keep it that way. So we are, are just working triple time here in the State Department to ensure the safety of our Americans.

By Tom Curry National affairs writer

With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in danger of being toppled by waves of street protests, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday urged “a peaceful, orderly transition to a democratic regime,” but refused to engage in speculation about possible U.S. sanctuary for Mubarak if he were driven into exile.

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Clinton told NBC’s David Gregory the central issue was not whether Mubarak was taking the necessary steps to salvage his 30-year rule, but whether he would respond to “the legitimate needs and grievances expressed by the Egyptian people and chart a new path.”

Meanwhile, in Egypt thousands of people gathered again Sunday in Cairo, calling for Mubarak to give up power and leave the country. Demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square chanted,  "Mubarak, Mubarak, the plane awaits."

Video: Armed gangs free prisoners from Egyptian jails

Increasingly residents in Cairo were taking steps to defend themselves and their property from looting and violence.

“The looting is what Egyptians are mostly focused on right now," reported NBC News correspondent Richard Engel from Cairo. "Many people have set up private vigilante groups in front of their homes…. People are afraid. This is no longer just a political movement with protesters on the streets, but there is a basic collapse of law and order,” Engel said.

There were some signs of anti-American sentiment in the protests demanding that Mubarak resign and dismiss his appointment of Vice President Omar Suleiman. "Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans," protesters shouted.

Clinton had a word of praise for the Egyptian army, as did Sen. John McCain who appeared on CNN Sunday.

Praise for role of Egyptian military
“We have to recognize that we have to deal with the situation as it is and we are heartened by what we hear from our contacts that, at least thus far, the army has been trying to bring a sense of order without violence,” Clinton said.

“The good news, I think, is that the army is playing a very constructive role,” McCain said on CNN, calling the military “the only real stabilizing force in the country right now.”

He added, “Fortunately, we’ve had very close relations with the Egyptian military. There’s a lot of very good strong people there.”

Clinton’s comments underscored the limited effectiveness of repeated U.S. appeals to Mubarak to allow democratization.

Video: Engel: Army trying to make ‘show of force’

“We have been urging free and fair elections for many years…. Through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, America’s message has been consistent: We want to see free and fair elections,” Clinton said.

“We have tried to, in our partnership with Egypt, to make the point over and over again about what will create a better pathway for the Egyptian people” — that is, an open, democratic political system and more economic opportunity.

Also appearing on Meet the Press, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called Egypt “an indispensable ally and we hope that, at the end of the day when whatever changes are going occur do occur, that we will still have an important ally.”

Story: What the United States has at stake in Egypt

McCain said the way out of the crisis was for Mubarak to announce he would not run for president, to turn over power to a caretaker government, and for that interim regime to proceed with elections in September.

“This is a narrow window of opportunity. The longer the unrest exists, the more likely it is to become extreme,” he said.

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He urged President Obama to propose a plan for Mubarak to end emergency rule and announce that elections will be held in September. “I have confidence in the Egyptian people that they are not going to elect an extremist, not going to allow an extremist group to hijack their country — and that can be prevented if we have a fair and open process, beginning now,” McCain said.

If the transition to democracy is successful, Egypt could serve as a model for the entire Middle East, McCain said. "This could be really a seminal moment in the history of the Middle East."

“There’s all kind of bad scenarios here, and really only one good one,” he said.

McCain voices fears 
“My great fear is obviously a radical Islamic extremist (regime) — the Iran scenario…” he said. “The longer this unrest, the more likely the radicals see openings to take power — the Lenin scenario.”

He also said he feared that turmoil might spread to Yemen, Jordan and other countries in the region, potentially strengthening the hand of radical Islamists.

McCain, who lost the 2008 election to Obama, was mildly critical of the president for not being more assertive in calling for democracy. Obama needs to “get a little bit more out ahead” of events, the Arizona senator said, and "lay out a scenario" of a shift to democratic government in Egypt.

“We need to be on the right side of history” and “we need to do a better job of emphasizing and arguing strenuously for human rights,” he said.

“Isn’t the lesson of history that you cannot have autocratic, repressive regimes last forever?” he asked. “And the longer they last, the more explosive are the results. And that’s a lesson we have to learn.”

In fiscal 2009, the United States spent about $1.5 billion on aid to Egypt, with most of it in the form of military aid. Since 1979, Egypt has been the second largest recipient, after Israel, of U.S. foreign assistance.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday that the U.S. aid package would be reviewed in light of how Mubarak's government responds to the unrest.

Obama said in a statement Friday night that Mubarak had “pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity.  I just spoke to him after his speech and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise.”

The president also said the United States “will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free, and more hopeful.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

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