Obama calls for transition in Egypt to begin immediately

The transition of power in Egypt following President Hosni Mubarak’s decision to step down must begin immediately, President Obama said Tuesday evening.

Making his first comments since Mubarak said that he would not seek reelection this fall, Obama said that “an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”

{mosads}In remarks in the grand foyer of the White House, the president welcomed the decision by Mubarak to step aside, a decision aided by pressure from the U.S. government. But Obama said that process must not drag on too long, and offered U.S. assistance in the transition.

“Throughout this process, the United States will continue to extend the hand of partnership and friendship to the Egyptian people,” he said.

Obama’s comments capped off a high-intensity day at the White House, which saw Mubarak appear on Egyptian state television to announce that he would continue to serve until elections could be held to replace him, falling in line with the “orderly transition” that U.S. officials had sought in the country.

It was not immediately clear whether Mubarak’s announcement would do enough to quell the rioting and protests that have carried on across Egypt for days.

The situation has beguiled the Obama administration, which has largely kept huddled in private meetings the past two days to plan its response.

Obama held a Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning, and the administration maintained an all-hands-on-deck approach across the board throughout the day.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke again on Tuesday morning via telephone with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s defense minister, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

He declined to divulge specifics of the conversation, but said it was “part of their effort to stay in touch and up to speed during [the] evolving situation.”

Obama huddled later with his national security team, during which they watched a broadcast of Mubarak’s speech. After that address, Obama and the Egyptian leader spoke on the phone for half an hour, according to the White House.

Obama has enjoyed broad political support for his handling of the Egyptian situation since the crisis intensified at the end of last week, and that support showed no signs of wavering on Tuesday.

“I think, with regard to what’s going on in the Middle East, my view is America ought to speak with one voice,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Capitol Hill. “And we have one president and one secretary of State, and I think they ought to speak for America with regard to the crisis in the Middle East.”

Like McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed support for the administration’s handling of the situation over the weekend. And would-be Republican challengers to Obama in 2012’s presidential election have been largely muted in their criticism.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a large, pro-Israel lobbying group, also was generally supportive of the administration’s stance.

“Like all Americans, AIPAC is concerned about how Egypt’s future will affect American interests in the region,” said AIPAC press secretary Jennifer Cannata. “AIPAC hopes that any political transition in Egypt will lead to a pro-American, pro-Western and democratic government that is committed to maintaining Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.”

At the same time, the group said, it was appropriate to review U.S. aid to Egypt, which it said should be dependent on whether Egypt’s future government remains committed to its peace treaty with Israel.

John T. Bennett contributed to this story.  This story was originally posted at 7:03 p.m. and updated at 8:27 p.m.

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