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Clinton treads cautiously on Egypt transition

world Updated: Feb 05, 2011 23:10 IST

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday called for international support for Egypt's transition to democracy as she warned of extremist forces that might try to derail it.

Speaking to an international security conference in Munich, Germany, Clinton also called for support toward open and accountable governments across the Middle East despite the short term risks of chaos and instability.

The chief US diplomat praised the restraint of Egyptian security forces in largely peaceful mass protests. A transition in Egypt "will become immeasurably harder if there is not restraint by government and security forces, and we thankfully saw that yesterday with the very large but peaceful demonstration," she said.

Clinton, who was addressing the Munich Security Conference ahead a Middle East Quartet meeting on the Palestinian-Israeli deadlock, also worried about other threats to stability, referring to the attack on a gas pipeline.

Unknown saboteurs attacked an Egyptian pipeline supplying gas to Jordan, forcing authorities to switch off gas supply from a twin pipeline to Israel, an official told AFP. "There are lot of actions that are out of anyone's control in any position of responsibility and leadership inside Egypt and outside Egypt," the chief US diplomat said.

"There are forces at work in any society, and particularly one that is facing these kinds of challenges that will try to derail or overtake the process to pursue their own specific agenda," Clinton said.

This, she said, is "why I think it is important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by now vice president Omar Suleiman." Saying proper reforms take "some time," her comments were less insistent than those she and other officials in President Barack Obama's administration made in the past week demanding the transition start "now" and "immediately".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also sounded a note of caution against hurrying the transition, citing her own experience at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 from the communist side of the Cold War barrier.

"Even though it is not directly comparable (with Egypt), we didn't want to wait a single day ... for reunification," Merkel said of her fellow East Germans.

"But when it took place in October (1990) and we saw the scale of the necessary transition we were quite happy that some people had prepared things properly."

British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed, but warned that the longer a power transition in Egypt took, the greater the risk of a government "that we wouldn't welcome."