Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and newly minted State Department Policy Planning Chief Jake Sullivan just held an on the record conference call on events in Egypt and America’s position.
Rhodes outlined the three central pillars of the Obama White House’s approaches to the turmoil in Egypt.
President Obama and Ben Rhodes (Pete Souza/White House)
Rhodes said the three key principles were (1) no violence and repression — and immediate release of detained protesters and journalists; (2) respect for the universal human right of people to assemble and protest; and (3) an immediate political transition that is broadly inclusive of those protesting throughout Egypt.
NPR’s Michele Kelemen just asked a question that given the Egyptian government’s rejection of President Obama’s demand that the “emergency law” be repealed, what does that say about the state of American influence. Jake Sullivan made clear that our influence is one that takes the form of organizing and coalescing global peer pressure on these issues, including ending the emergency law. Sullivan and Rhodes both said that ultimately the US does not have the ability to dictate outcomes and that ultimately the Egyptian people are the ones in control of what is acceptable and what not.
In my view, what Sullivan and Rhodes are saying is that Vice President Soleiman and other newly appointed apparatchiks of the government may be able to reject calls from the international community — but they may very well face much greater, rising pressure from the public.
Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy‘s “The Cable” has asked the two administration principals if the State Department and White House were on the same page regarding Egypt as Rogin has been working on a piece today exploring whether Hillary Clinton’s close cooperation and collaboration with DoD’s Robert Gates was pulling her in a direction of wanting “regime adjustment” rather than the more principles-driven position that the White House has been hitting on in its public and private communications. In other words, the White House has wanted real change and real inclusion of the Opposition in a future solution “yesterday” — and Clinton seemed to be acquiescing to Vice President Soleiman controlling the key strings and process.
Jake Sullivan and Ben Rhodes expected the question — and they are suggesting that apparent differences were more time, place and context — and that Hillary Clinton’s approach has been built on the core principles and messages that President Obama has insisted be the center of the administration’s approach. In other words, they are saying to Rogin that they are on the same page, not different pages.
Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times asked about inclusion of the Opposition and to what degree this is happening in negotiations. Ben Rhodes stated that it was clear to us and many that the Egyptian authorities drew the line of who could be in the room far too narrowly — and while the US didn’t feel it was appropriate to dictate who should be in the room, it is important to push the incumbent authorities to widen participation.
Dombey also asked about US financial assistance to Egypt. Rhodes bluntly stated that it would be normal to reassess this assistance depending on evolving conditions and political outcomes in Egypt.
Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal wanted to know what the US government was hearing from Egyptians on the other end of the calls that Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials are making (i.e., we get “read outs” of what Biden said — but don’t hear what the responses were).
Andrea Mitchell asked if Frank Wisner delivered “the message” that the administration wanted delivered. Ben Rhodes responded that he was recruited to go to Egypt for one meeting and to deliver one message — not to be held on for a longer period of time. Rhodes said that “he fulfilled that role” and “returned on the schedule that was always intended for him.”
Throughout their commentary, Sullivan and Rhodes kept reminding those on the call that the US has views and perspectives but that the expectation that America can control events inside Egypt would be wrong; they both said that conditions on Egypt are right now in the hands of protesters — and the swelling of crowds yesterday put more pressure on the government than what the US could do.
There was more from Politico‘s Josh Gerstein, Alhurra, and others.
There should be a transcript posted in the next day.
— Steve Clemons