| Updated at: 0505 PST, Wednesday, February 09, 2011|
WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday warned governments in the Middle East to heed signs of popular "discontent" and enact reforms as it pressed Egypt to broaden its dialogue with opposition groups.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters he hoped political upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia would serve as a wake-up call for leaders in the region.
"What we have seen take place in Tunisia and Egypt is a spontaneous manifestation of discontent. We have known about these grievances for a long time," said Gates, a former CIA director and analyst.
"And we have spoken to a number of governments in the region over time about the need to address these concerns," he said when asked about a possible ripple effect among US allies.
The White House insisted it was not easing up on its demands for immediate political change in Cairo as street protests entered a third week demanding the end of President Hosni Mubarak's rule.
US Vice President Joe Biden renewed an appeal for "immediate" and "irreversible" political change in a phone call to his counterpart, Vice President Omar Suleiman, seen by many as the power behind the throne.
Biden, who has known Suleiman for years, urged the regime to open up a wider dialogue with opposition groups, lift an emergency law used to stifle dissent and allow the opposition to join in efforts to draft a plan for a political transition.
According to a White House statement, Biden called for "broadening participation in the national dialogue to include a wide range of opposition members."
President Barack Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to directly comment on tentative steps by Mubarak to appease opponents, though seemed to hint that protesters saw the moves as falling short.