The Cable

McCain breaks with Obama, calls for Mubarak to step down now

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) just became the most senior foreign-policy figure in Washington to outwardly call for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down from power now.

"Regrettably the time has come 4 Pres. Mubarak 2 step down & relinquish power. It's in the best interest of Egypt, its people & its military," he tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

McCain, who met with President Obama at the White House Wednesday, went further than either the administration or Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who have called for Mubarak not to run again for president but have stopped short of calling for him to relinquish power at this time.

The message from McCain was not some coordinated communications strategy cooked up with the White House, according to our sources, but simply represented McCain's latest analysis of the ever worsening situation on the ground in Egypt and the handling of the crisis by Mubarak and his regime.

Only yesterday, McCain was supporting the administration's official line. On Tuesday, he praised Obama's call for Mubarak to begin an orderly transition to democracy and to not run for reelection.

"I'm not going to try to second-guess the president at this difficult time," McCain told reporters. "I think there should be a transition and an orderly one."

McCain's call for Mubarak to step aside immediately is also notable because McCain has been arguing strenuously in recent days that the Muslim Brotherhood, which stands to benefit from a free election, is a dangerous and violent organization.

"Have no doubt about the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood. They're a radical organization, they support Hamas, and they would be very bad for Egypt," McCain said Tuesday.

Last fall, McCain led a drive to pass a Senate resolution calling on Mubarak to advance political reform and calling on the Obama administration to press Mubarak on human rights. That resolution died before reaching a vote on the Senate floor.

"We've got to be on the right side of history," McCain told The Cable Tuesday. "If you're on the right side of history, everything will turn out OK."

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The Cable

Clinton to ambassadors: We are all in uncharted territory

In the midst of the Egypt crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with almost every U.S. ambassador Wednesday at the State Department and told them their jobs will be getting more difficult as the events in the Arab world unfold.

"It goes without saying -- but I will say it anyway -- that this is a critical time for America's global leadership," Clinton told the ambassadors. "From the theft of confidential cables to 21st-century protest movements to development breakthroughs that have the potential to change millions of lives, we are all in uncharted territory, and that requires us to be more nimble, more innovative, and more accountable than ever before."

Over 200 ambassadors are in Washington this week for the first-ever global chiefs of mission conference, which was scheduled long before the recent string of revolts in the Arab world.

"We figured early February would be quiet, not much going on. What better time to pull you from your posts and responsibilities?" Clinton joked.

She spoke about the difficult budget environment for diplomacy and development this year, the role of civilian personnel in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

But the political crisis in the Arab world, which has consequences for America's relationships with so many countries, was a repeated focus of Clinton's remarks.

"And as we see with what's going on today, recent events in Egypt and certainly in that broader region remind us all how crucial it is to have top-notch leadership on the ground and how quickly that ground can shift under our feet," Clinton said, noting that U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey could not attend.

State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills also addressed the ambassadors, who were scheduled on Wednesday to also hear from Joints Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer, and Special Representative for Global Partnerships Kris Balderston. Special Advisor Alec Ross and Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale will meet with the group later this week.

Clinton said the State Department will release a fiscal 2012 budget request next month that represents "a lean budget for lean times." State doesn't even know yet what its fiscal 2011 funding will be and the House is looking to cut diplomacy and development funding just as the civilian missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are expanding, she said.

Clinton asked all the ambassadors to find ways to save money and to use their meetings with lawmakers to advocate for robust funding for diplomacy and development next year.

"We know that there are those in the Congress who have even advocated eliminating all foreign aid, eliminating AID, and it's going to take some outreach and education to discuss with them and lead them through our rationale," Clinton told the ambassadors. "But I and we need to be in a position where we can say, 'Look, we hear you.'"

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