WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is in talks with top Egyptian officials about the possible immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the formation of an interim government that could prepare the country for free and fair elections later this year, U.S. officials said late Thursday.
Creation of a military-backed caretaker government in Egypt is one of several ideas being discussed as anti-Mubarak protests escalate in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, the officials said.
Those protests are expected to grow in size and intensity today, and the administration fears that they may erupt into more widespread violence unless the government takes tangible steps to address the protesters' main demand that Mubarak leave office.
The officials stressed that the United States isn't seeking to impose a solution on Egypt, but noted that the administration had made a judgment that Mubarak has to go soon if there is to be a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomatic talks, which are continuing. The talks about Mubarak's immediate departure were first reported by The New York Times.
White House and State Department spokesmen would not discuss details of the discussions U.S. officials are having with the Egyptians. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman on Thursday, a day after a similar conversation between Suleiman and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Officials said neither Biden nor Clinton made a specific call for Mubarak to resign immediately, but pressed for measures that would ease tensions on the streets and set the stage for democratic elections.
An administration official said there is no single plan being discussed with the Egyptians.
Rather, the administration is pursuing different ideas with Egyptian figures on how to proceed quickly with a process that includes a broad range of voices and leads to free and fair elections.
Among those options is a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately, which the embattled president has refused to do, and for Mubarak to cede power to a transitional government run by Suleiman.
The official rejected the notion that the White House was trying to impose that idea, and said it was not at all clear it would happen. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The discussions come amid escalating violence between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces.
Rep. Jim Clyburn urged calm Thursday over the uprising, saying he would prefer to see Mubarak stay in office so the government could experience a smooth transition of power after September elections.
During an appearance in North Charleston, Clyburn, D-S.C., said the U.S. is in a difficult position because Mubarak, without question, is a dictator. But the solution lies in a public vote and a peaceful step toward bringing in a democratically elected government, he said.
'I'd rather see that than have him walk out the door tomorrow morning and leave a vacuum we can't fill,' Clyburn said.
A hasty changeover could come back to sting American interests, Clyburn said, like what happened after Fulgencio Batista was succeeded by Fidel Castro following the Cuban revolution of the late 1950s.
'Few people remember we supported Castro, and look what it got us,' he said of the long-term communist ruler.