| Updated at: 0120 PST, Monday, January 31, 2011|
WASHINGTON: The United States on Sunday urged an orderly transition to democracy in Egypt to avoid a power vacuum but stopped short of calling on embattled
President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
Stepping up pressure on Mubarak, Obama called Saudi King Abdullah, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister David Cameron to voice support for moves toward a government the White House said must be "responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mubarak must ensure that the coming elections are free and fair and live up to his promises of reform but that the process should be carried out to prevent a void that could be filled by extremists.
Appearing on a slew of US television news programs, Clinton kept up the Obama administration's cautious balancing act. Washington is trying to avoid abandoning Mubarak – a strategic ally of 30 years -- while supporting protesters who seek broader rights and demand his ouster.
While Clinton repeatedly dodged questions about whether Mubarak should resign due to the political upheaval threatening his long autocratic rule, her call for democratic transition marked the furthest the Obama administration has gone so far in distancing itself from him.
Her blunt words also appeared to suggest that the US administration's patience with Mubarak was wearing thin and added to pressure on him to loosen -- if not eventually relinquish -- his grip on power.
"We want to see an orderly transition so that no one fills a void, that there not be a void, that there be a well thought out plan that will bring about a democratic participatory government," Clinton told "Fox News Sunday" on the sixth day of mass protests against Mubarak's long autocratic rule.
Echoing Clinton's language, the White House said Obama spoke to foreign leaders on Saturday and Sunday about the need for an "orderly transition" in Egypt.
Clinton also alluded to US concerns about who might follow Mubarak. Many US commentators have voiced concerns that radical Muslims could take power in Egypt.
"We also don't want to see some takeover that would lead not to democracy but to oppression and the end of the aspirations of the Egyptian people." she said.
Clinton said the United States wants to avoid a situation that would allow "radicals, extremists, violent elements to take over." US officials fear any power vacuum might give Islamists a chance to make inroads in a future government.
Even as Obama and his aides have taken a more assertive stance, Clinton signaled, however, that the administration was not ready to use its most tangible leverage with Cairo – the $1.5 billion in annual US aid, the vast majority of which is for the military.
"There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off aid," she said "This Week," though she quickly added "we always are looking (at) and reviewing our aid."
The US administration was caught off guard by the political upheaval that has rocked the Middle East in recent days, from Egypt to Tunisia to Lebanon to Yemen, and is now scrambling to craft a sound strategy.