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JOHN KING, USA
Mubarak Agrees to Step Down in September; White House's Stand; Israel's Concern
Aired February 1, 2011 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Dramatic breaking news, tonight history in Egypt and the sound of revolution.
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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)
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KING: Not enough is their message -- that despite President Hosni Mubarak's dramatic promise not to seek another term as president and to move up elections now scheduled for September.
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PRES. HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPT (through translator): My first responsibility now is to secure the stability and security of the homeland to achieve a peaceful transition of power. I ask the parliament to commit to speed up the elections.
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KING: This is a fascinating and a risky moment in Egypt and across the Middle East. President Mubarak hoping to cling to power for several more months, the demonstrators vowing they will not relent until he leaves and the president of the United States who nudged Mubarak this far nudging him again just moments ago.
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BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is not the rule of any other country to determine Egypt's leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now.
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KING: If you think this is some far off place and it doesn't matter to you, think again. The revolutionary rumblings in Egypt are rippling across the region. Jordan, for example, reshuffled its government today. Israel is nervous. Oil prices are skittish and some warn all this uncertainty could benefit radical Islamists and in the end hurt the United States and its allies.
All the angles tonight as only CNN can beginning in the ancient city where today a new revolution gains steam. Arwa Damon was in the crowd when President Mubarak spoke to the nation and the demonstrators responded with a loud refrain of not enough -- Arwa.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. (INAUDIBLE) the demonstrators in the square, we are only a short distance away, very much in defiance of curfew. As President Mubarak spoke demonstrators were initially very silent, hushing one another and then as he uttered those words that he was not going to be stepping down even though he would not be seeking reelection there was disbelief that quickly turned into pure, raw anger. People were livid.
We have not seen this kind of a reaction from the demonstrators to date. Screaming and shouting that Mubarak had to go now that his words were an insult to all Egyptians. They were simply that they don't trust (INAUDIBLE) promises. We asked them why they didn't feel that this time period would be enough (INAUDIBLE) wasn't an acceptable compromise and they said who knows what he is going to do to us in these next months.
He could continue killing us, butchering us. One woman who we spoke to also reiterated that point saying we have heard so many promises from him over the last 30 years. What have we seen as a result of that. One young man (INAUDIBLE) very much a vested interest in seeing economic reforms in the country said that he was not willing to step away from that demonstration (INAUDIBLE) one second as long as President Mubarak stayed in power -- John.
KING: Arwa Damon on the scene for us -- we will go back live to Egypt in just a moment, but look at this. Here's an image from today's demonstration that speaks volumes. "Yes we can too" the banner reads. The theme borrowed from the 2008 Obama campaign and a pointed message from the demonstrators who believe this White House has been too slow to embrace their cause.
Privately the administration had told President Mubarak for several days he needed to do more, including an attempt to bring in opposition leaders and to some emergency government. Over the past 24 hours the White House went further sending an emissary to tell President Mubarak he had lost Washington support and needed to orchestrate a transition and just now the president sent this message to the protesters on the ground.
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OBAMA: The people in Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear. We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny.
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KING: So now what is not just a question in Egypt. Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is working his sources on where the administration sees this crisis heading -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well that's right, John, and in private they are much bolder than they are in public. You heard the president go only so far there even in backing the protesters in sort of extending his hand and saying we hear your voices, but also in public as you noted, maybe a push to President Mubarak, but not really a shove.
In private they are suggesting his days are numbered. They know that and they're saying in private it's only a matter of time. Their only question though is who will fill the leadership vacuum when he is gone. And that is one of the reasons holding them back from pushing President Mubarak harder I'm told, but secondly, they also don't want it to look like the U.S. is dictating any of this.
After a repressive regime of being in office, the last thing White House officials say that they want is to be looking like they're determining the future for the Egyptian people. I think another important point to make is that this was the second time in the last few days the president had a phone call with President Mubarak. They spoke for about 30 minutes, not a short call, very long call. And when you talk to White House officials, they say the president is getting blunter in saying that time is running out -- John.
KING: Ed Henry thanks so much. We'll stay in touch with Ed. A dramatic moment for the White House and not long after President Mubarak spoke some violence broke out in Alexandria. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson quickly was on the scene there. Nic, tell us what happened.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well John, there is a square here (INAUDIBLE) square where a lot of the protesters were camping out. They were very angry when they heard President Mubarak's speech. It didn't go far enough for them. But they say what happened next was a group of OBAMA: Mubarak supporters came along, thugs they described them as, they got into fights, people being beaten with sticks and swords.
According to a doctor who helped treat some of the injured there, he said 12 people were injured in that incident, one of them seriously. The army moved in, firing shots in the air, dispersed and broke up this fight. But the protesters who are camped into that square, Market Square (ph), say this is only going to make them more determined to see President Mubarak step down immediately from power -- John.
KING: You know this region as well as anyone and we sit here in Washington -- they are asking this question at the White House -- we are asking it as journalists. If this is not good enough, who would negotiate with President Mubarak? If the president were to say I would leave sooner, who is the negotiator for the Revolution?
ROBERTSON: We are asking that question and people don't have an answer. They say the main thing is to get him removed, then we cross that bridge. People have a more nuanced understanding here say we need a careful caretaker. They're even saying that they would accept the vice president, albeit nominated just a few days ago by President Mubarak, a lifelong loyalist to President Mubarak.
They're saying even he would be better than somebody we don't know perhaps. They say we need a careful pair of hands that the transition needs to come soon. Some even say President Mubarak can stay another week. They also say the guarantee of quick elections that we have heard today is a good thing. They say there should be international monitors for those elections so that people can be sure that they're going to be carried in an open and transparent way.
So President Mubarak speech has gone some way to answering some of those questions that are being asked on the streets. But precisely who could negotiate, people don't have any idea at the moment mostly and that's their concern. They don't know who to trust. They don't know who should be rising up from their communities. Many of these are very sort of spontaneous groups, plus some people say that the opposition groups who have just been waiting for the youth to rise up like this are taking advantage of the situation and they don't trust those leaders either. So there is a strong element of confusion -- John.
KING: It's remarkable. Nic Robertson on the scene for us, we are lucky to have you reporting there, Nic. We'll check in throughout the hour. Now let's bring in our senior political analyst David Gergen and David, let's start with the president of the United States. He spoke just moments ago. He clearly has been nudging President Mubarak to act faster, to be more open to a dialogue and to plan on leaving office sooner, a lot sooner, one gets the sense than President Mubarak would expect. However Nic Robertson just said we don't know who the next government would be. We don't know who truly honestly speaks for the demonstrators. How does the president of the United States deal with that?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is very, very difficult for the president. In his short statement tonight, his heart was clearly with the demonstrators. He wanted to send that message. But at the same time his head tells him he's got to stick with Mubarak for the transition. And by blessing Mubarak -- Mubarak -- run transition, leaving Mubarak there in charge over this transition period of uncertain weeks and months maybe, he is clearly not going to please the demonstrators and he's clearly not going to please ElBaradei. I'm not at all sure, John, why he made the talk.
KING: You say you're not at all sure why he made the talk? And that's an interesting point. As someone who has advised four presidents, I'm getting the sense you would have advised him not to say anything tonight, but that is part of the dilemma, is it not, you have a traditional ally of the United States for decades and the president is trying essentially to tell Mubarak not months, Mr. President, weeks perhaps. Negotiate a departure, but negotiate it within weeks and many people you hear it from our correspondents there and you see it in the images, David, many of these people in the street think the United States which is supposed to be the beacon of democracy, the beacon of freedom is on the wrong side here.
GERGEN: I think that's right, John. And we, you know in Tunisia people -- the protesters are really angry at the United States because they are being fired upon with tear gas canisters and the canisters had made in the USA on them. And here in Egypt now, the president has in effect while his heart is with the protesters, he in effect has endorsed the Mubarak speech which is being so denunciated -- so strongly denunciated on the streets.
KING: Is it a full endorsement in your view? There are some conversation in town about this. He said the transition has to happen sooner. Begin now, so in the sense he is saying yes, President Mubarak is in charge, but he would like him to move more quickly. I guess that's the balance and the tight rope the president of the United States is on. If he backs away from Mubarak completely, what signal does that send to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia, to anyone else in the region and yet he is trying to align himself with these young people in the street?
GERGEN: Exactly, John, and it's a circle you can't square or a square you can't circle. And that's why I wasn't sure why he spoke because I wasn't sure how he could help the situation or help the United States in this dilemma. And I think ultimately Mubarak is going to go within days, not weeks and months. I just don't see how this -- he can continue in power in this situation. And when it's all over, the president wants to be in a situation when he leaves that the United States is going to have continuing influence and friendships in Egypt. And it -- there is a degree to which I think all of us worry that our influence will diminish if we misplay our hand here.
KING: David Gergen, excellent insights from you, David. Thanks for your time tonight. When we come back --
GERGEN: Thank you.
KING: -- we'll address the questions David just raised. What next for the United States and what should the administration be doing diplomatically? Should the president have spoken publicly? We will also take you very quickly back live to the unfolding developments in Egypt. Don't go anywhere.
KING: What's next is the biggest question and we don't know the answer, but we do know this crisis has unfolded in strange ways in recent days. President Mubarak's initial reaction when the demonstrators began about 10 days ago was essentially a shrug. Then he agreed to shake up his government. That was rejected as a sham and it was at this point the Obama White House and other Western powers began pressuring President Mubarak to do more.
Can he now open a dialogue with the opposition and stay on for months as he promised tonight or will he be forced to leave? One vocal Mubarak opponent, the veteran diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei told CNN's Anderson Cooper the only way out of the crisis is for President Mubarak to leave immediately.
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MOHAMED ELBARADEI: He just has to let go and not only is going at best to be a lame duck president, he's going to be a dead man walking, you know, and I don't really understand what is behind that other than further six, seven months of instability rather than prepare the ground for a new Egypt.
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KING: CNN's Ivan Watson is in the middle of all this, live in Cairo tonight. Ivan, we know the demonstrators initially said no, it's not enough Mr. President. We just heard from Nic Robertson saying they do have a nuance view that they would take some sort of a transitional government. Is there any sense though if Mohamed ElBaradei won't negotiate with Mubarak, who will?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question. We certainly that the demonstrators, that thousands of demonstrators still camped out here, literally camped out, John, after 2:00 in the morning and (INAUDIBLE) see tents in the background here, more than we have really ever seen before. They're clearly not satisfied. They still want more concessions from (INAUDIBLE) Mubarak (INAUDIBLE) him to step down and perhaps even hand over power to his vice president.
Some of the opposition parties that we've spoken to, (INAUDIBLE) being one opposition figure, a man who ran for president against Hosni Mubarak (INAUDIBLE) lost and was later thrown in jail. He has come out saying that he was very disappointed with the streets (INAUDIBLE) actually with the streets (INAUDIBLE) Hosni Mubarak said and that he did not trust his promise to lead a transition to democratic elections because he says that Hosni Mubarak stole the last election, according to the November-December parliamentary elections which were widely described to have been fraudulent here.
Also the Muslim Brotherhood coming out saying they did not approve of the steps that have been taken here. Now the prime minister newly appointed prime minister went on television today and he did say that the door was still open for dialogue with opposition parties that he claims rejected an offer to meet with the government yesterday. He says that door would even be open to the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the key opposition here. We know that the opposition (INAUDIBLE) is quite fractured after years of oppression in what has effectively been a police state, John, and we know that there are parties, established parties on one hand and then this grass roots youth movement which is very unpredictable which we see behind me here on the other hand.
KING: Remarkable scene -- Ivan Watson on the scene for us, one of our correspondents doing fabulous work. Ivan thank you, we'll keep in touch. This dramatic upheaval in Egypt is perhaps the most volatile region in the world on edge, has the Obama White House in full crisis mode.
Let's get some insight now from a veteran of tough diplomatic challenges, the former under secretary of state, Nicholas Burns. Nick, it's 3:00 in the morning. There are tens of thousands still sitting in the plaza saying sorry, Mr. President. Your offer to stay on for a few months is not good enough. Is President Mubarak gone by the end of the week in your view? NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well I think you know this is a necessary first step, John, and a very dramatic day for President Mubarak to say he won't stand for reelection and his son won't run. But you know it's not going to be enough. He lost control of the streets. His government is not functioning. He's in effect proposing an eight-month lame duck period, a transitional period.
We have enough problems in the United States with our two-month transition. It's just too long. And so I suspect that what the United States government hopes is a much shorter timeline, a willingness by President Mubarak to turn the affairs of state over to some other figure and the assumption of negotiations with the opposition.
That could be Mohamed ElBaradei. It could be someone like (INAUDIBLE) the former Egyptian foreign minister, the secretary general of the Arab League. It could be a committee of reformers and democrats, but I think eight months is far too long. You have seen the scenes in the streets today, millions of people clamoring for freedom and for a change in government in Egypt, so I do credit President Obama. I think he had to make the statement he made tonight. You know John, President Obama is on a high wire trying to balance competing objectives.
On the one hand, he had to send a signal in my judgment of American support for change, for freedom. Hopefully for a democratic future of Egypt, he had to reassure the young people in all the Arab world that the United States is listening. But on the other hand the United States is the only country with substantial influence on Egypt. I hope the president used that influence very skillfully over the weekend when he sent Ambassador Frank Wisner quite diplomacy with a direct message that President Mubarak had to move on. So I actually think the president has done a really fine job of balancing these very difficult priorities.
KING: As you know, there are some critics who dispute that. So help us understand, you have been in the room for these difficult conversations. The president says one thing publicly. He is trying to (A) stand by and nudge but politely nudge a long-term long time U.S. ally. On the other hand tonight trying to also say to the people in the streets I hear you, I respect you, I want to help you --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peel back the curtain.
KING: When the president of the United States, he said he called President Mubarak right after his speech today. When he is on the phone, what's the less diplomatic, what's the real language he is using to the president of Egypt?
BURNS: Well I think the president -- I don't know what he said specifically, but I imagine the president was fairly direct. You don't want to leave any room for a misunderstanding here, leader to leader. So what President Obama did, he didn't agree with those in our own country who criticize him. He didn't want to engage in megaphone diplomacy over the last couple of days. I think he understood he is dealing with a very proud, very experienced 82-year- old leader in Egypt.
He has to nudge him to make this fateful decision. So first he sent Ambassador Wisner with a direct message and Ambassador Wisner is someone who knows President Mubarak, there is a familiarity there. And then the phone call where I imagine President Obama would have been very direct and very clear. I actually think this kind of subtle back room diplomacy or quiet diplomacy if you will is far preferable in a complex environment like this than the type of megaphone diplomacy that I think a lot of critics here in the United States wanted the president to engage in.
John, we have to remember this is ultimately not about us. We are not going to write this story here in the United States. It's going to be written in the streets of the Arab world and of Egypt and the United States has a lot of detractors in the Arab world. If President Obama had come out and tried to stage manage and direct these affairs, I think there would have been a serious push back by average people on the streets, it would have fed their suspicion that the United States wants to control these events and instead I think this subtle diplomacy has been far more effective.
KING: Let me ask you lastly -- we're going to go there live in a moment. What is the conversation the United States government is having with its closest ally in the region, Israel tonight, which has to be very nervous that its friend in Washington is now nudging a partner it trusts in Egypt out of power?
BURNS: Well you know this -- there are enormous stakes here for the United States. Egypt is the most important country in the Arab world to us and enormous stakes for Israel because of the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt. And I imagine that the United States is having some difficulty convincing the Israelis that this is the right move. But it is. Israel has to see as well that President Mubarak cannot sustain his government.
He has lost the support of the people of Egypt. That's abundantly clear. So again I think the complexity of the foreign policy challenge to President Obama is you have got to work very effectively and quietly with the Egyptian government. You have to reassure the Israeli government. You have to reach out to King Abdullah, II of Jordan to some of our other friends in the Arab world to try to sustain their will and also try to include the efforts of Britain, France, and Germany to make sure that everyone is pulling on the same war.
I think this is the most serious foreign policy crisis of the Obama presidency. I think the president and secretary of state have been very sound and very skillful in this process.
KING: Nick Burns, as always appreciate your insights. We will keep in touch. I see days ahead. Up next, we'll map out the potential domino effect of Egypt's political upheaval and we'll head live to Israel -- anxious Israel (INAUDIBLE).
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Anwar Sadat was the Egyptian president who made peace with Israel, but President Hosni Mubarak has honored that peace for the past three decades and proven to be a reliable partner for an Israeli government with few friends in the Arab world. So unrest and a change at the top is a major cause of concern in Israel. CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney live with us tonight from Jerusalem -- Fionnuala, any reaction since the -- President Mubarak's speech?
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well we called a government spokesman just after President Mubarak's speech and he had no comment, but interestingly, John, about an hour before word began to leak out about President Mubarak's speech, the prime minister's office issued a statement, almost a preemptive statement and if I can just read from it.
Benjamin Netanyahu saying that the international community must demand that any Egyptian government maintain its peace treaty with Israel, going on to say Israel is a democracy. It encourages the advancement of free and democratic values in the Middle East. Advancement of these values will be good for peace, however he goes on to say if radical forces take advantage of the democratic process to come to power and to advance anti-democratic goals, as happened in Iran and other places, the result will be harmful to peace and democracy.
Israel, John, walking a fine line like Washington, wanting to be seen to promote democracy in the region. In fact for many years boasting that it's the only truly democratic country in the region, but at the same time trying to look out for its number one primary interest which of course is security. And to that extent President Hosni Mubarak has served Israel very well.
KING: Fionnuala Sweeney for us in Jerusalem -- Fionnuala thank you. A fascinating statement -- their issue of making clear its interests in the hours and days ahead, so let's take a close look at the region and the potential domino effect of Egypt's political unrest with a man who travels there frequently and is a close tracker of Arab public opinion, University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami.
Welcome back. I want to go over to the map in a second. But first, you just heard Fionnuala describe the anxiety -- it's clear that's anxiety -- on the part of the Israeli government. President Mubarak is trying to hang on for several weeks if not several months. Can he?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDEAST POLICY: I don't know whether he can or not. It doesn't look like it from (INAUDIBLE), but it really doesn't matter because Egypt has changed fundamentally from the point of view of the Israelis. There's no president who's not going to be sensitive to their public opinion from now on. And public opinion is very angry with Israel and has not supported a lot of the policies.
Having said that, I don't think the Israeli/Egyptian peace is in jeopardy no matter what happens. In part it's a mutual interest issue and the military, which has been the anchor of that agreement, is likely to continue to play a role.
But I want to say something about Netanyahu. The problem here is not only that Egypt anchor a peace so there is no war, but it is that actually, actively Egypt has become probably the Israeli government's closest ally in the region, particularly after the weakening relations with Turkey. And they had lost their relationship with Iran with the Iranian revolution. So, oddly enough, it's not just about keeping peace, it is about active coordination. That I think will be less likely.
KING: That's a problem that I want to continue over here. Because that is another factor as you look at the map. We have highlighted here, there are places that are flashing, places that have had at least some level of demonstration in recent weeks. Tunisia obviously had a change of government. Egypt we are watching unfold. Syria, Jordan, Yemen, as well, my question is the domino effect.
Now that people have seen, everyone in the neighborhood has seen, thousands in the street can affect change, can get a 30-year president to announce he won't run for reelection. And perhaps before (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What happens in a place like Syria, for example? The Assad family run the show since 1970. Bashir al-Assad has been since his father died in 2000; a very different regime, a different regime than in Egypt. But can it survive? Will it face pressure?
TELHAMI: I think every single ruler in the Arab world is nervous. Particularly the ones that are close to the U.S., but not only those, Syria in particular too, because every government assumed that you cannot get people into the streets without organization. They have been very good at preempting that, and yet they see what happens. Can it happen somewhere else? Well, we didn't think that it could happen in Egypt or Tunisia. So everyone has to assume it can.
KING: And in Jordan, today, they shook up the government. A new prime minister, King Abdullah took over from his father, King Hussein. The family has ruled Jordan since its inception, really, back in 1953. Again, a different situation, maybe a different connection and bond with the people, a much smaller country. Do you see this carrying over? Should the King Abdullah tonight, be worried not only about what is happening in Egypt, but that the president of the United States responds to demonstrations and says we need to have change.
TELHAMI: As a political scientist, when I look at Jordan, I say it's a miracle. When I say it's a miracle, when you look at how small the place is, and how you have this monarchy that survived for so long in a difficult environment, having fought wars and lost territories, and has a refugee problem and a large Palestinian population being surrounded by other larger states. How it managed to maintain itself is really something of a miracle to be an analyst. It is facing a challenging time and there the economy is also an issue. The king obviously is trying not to be behind, two steps behind us, he watches the president of Egypt. He is trying to do something about it. We don't know. And I can't, even as a political scientist, tell you that what happened in Egypt could happen in Jordan just because of the dynamics are different. KING: Could it happen in Saudi Arabia, obviously a more wealthy country, far more wealthy than Egypt. Far more wealthy than Jordan, but again in the Saud family since 1930, King Abdullah not a young man here. Could it happen there?
TELHAMI: Every country is different. Particularly the Gulf, the rich Arab countries have their own dynamics, in large part because the economy is better. They have a large number of foreign troops. But to tell you that it can't happen, or that they are not nervous that it can happen, watching what happened, I think, would be to lie. Every country is going to worry about it. They have already seen demonstrations in various places from Yemen to Jordan to Algeria.
In that sense this changes the dynamic for American foreign policy immediately. In the past, when we went to a ruler, whether it's in Jordan or Saudi Arabia or Egypt and said to them, we would like you to do something. This is unpopular. They could put up with the anger of the public more than they could put up with our anger. I think this dynamic will change it, even if they don't have upheavals in their own countries. This is going to change that dynamic.
KING: The other question about U.S. foreign policy. You hear a lot of the new Republicans in Washington saying we need to cut spending and foreign aid is a good place to look. I have to assume, this is Egypt, about $3 billion. This is Israel-I'm sorry, this is Israel on top. Israel on top, yellow, Egypt in the middle, red, Jordan down here, a smaller amount of money. These are the requests for the next fiscal year. I have to assume that this one, the Israeli government will be on the phone to Washington, saying, thank you, Mr. President. You are causing us a bit of a problem here. We might need even more. And I assume any new Egyptian government, especially if the army is so important, is going to want at least that, and the Jordanians might be looking for help as well. How does this complicate, you mention U.S. foreign policy? It's shifting in terms of how one reacts to the demonstrations. But there is going to be pressure on this president to back up his allies.
TELHAMI: Let's separate first of all, the political environment in Washington. We know we have a Republican House that is calling for cuts across the board, including to Israel. That is going to be part of the political game no matter what happens in the Middle East. Even if these events didn't happen, that was going to happen in the dynamic. But strategically, even in Egypt, where you say, now there is a justification to cut the aid if there is change.
I'm not so sure. I will tell you why. Because no matter how you look at it, Egypt is going to be a central government and central country in what happens in the Middle East. If you look at the U.S. relationship with Egypt, it has been anchored in the relationship with the military. We don't know what will happen politically. The military is most likely going play a role in the next government no matter what because it's still popular, their position to maintain stability, that relationship the U.S. wants to protect it just like the military wants to protect it in Egypt. I think that argument that will come from the national security people, from the military, from the intelligence will weigh in on Congress. KING: Mr. Telhami will be with us a little bit later in the program, as well, when we look at some of the key faces now in the transition in Egypt.
We are also keeping an eye on a monster mix of ice and snow. We will get the latest from the extreme winter weather center.
But next, live to Cairo and the State Department for more new developments on the Egypt up rising uprising.
KING: If you are just joining us, let's reset today's dramatic breaking news in the Egypt uprising. President Hosni Mubarak delivered an address to the nation tonight dramatically promising not to seek another term as president. He also promised to try to speed up elections now scheduled for September.
But not long after that, President Obama spoke to the Egyptian leader, then President Obama delivered a message at the White House saying it was not enough.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is clear and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now. Furthermore the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that is not only grounded in democratic principals, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
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KING: This is a fascinating and a very risky moment for one of the most volatile regions in the world. President Mubarak, hoping to cling to power for several more months, but the demonstrators continuing to demand that he leave immediately. Among the opposition figures that some might think would negotiate with President Mubarak, perhaps agree to let him stay in the short-term, in a transitional government, is a former veteran diplomat, Mohamed El-Baradei, he spoke to our Anderson Cooper a bit earlier tonight. He listened to the President Mubarak's speech and he flatly said, no.
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MOHAMED ElBARADEI, FMR. DIRECTOR, IAEA: Anderson, this is clearly an act of deception. It's a person who doesn't want to let go. A dictator who doesn't want to listen to the clear voice of the people. Anderson, you are in Cairo, you have seen what the city looks like and what the people want. And to continue to try to play tricks, he is unfortunately going to extend the agony here, for another six or seven months. He is going to continue top polarize the country
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Anderson Cooper is with us now from Cairo.
Anderson, fascinating that Mr. El-Baradei, a veteran diplomat, had a chance to say let's negotiate, but clearly he thinks he has the leverage here, and the demonstrators have the leverage and, they want Mr. Mubarak to go now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt. There was no equivocation on his part. He is very clear President Mubarak has to go immediately. He says that was also the reaction from the protesters that he had spoken to immediately after the speech, as well as Muslim Brotherhood and other groups. It remains to be seen, though, how much power Mohamed El-Baradei, as you know, John, has here in Egypt. He has spend much of the last three decades of his life outside of Egypt. He doesn't have a broad base of support within this country. That being said he returned here on Thursday. He has been present at some of the demonstrations. And his star has risen just over the last several days.
President Mubarak, in the last 30 years, as you know, has done a very good job of eliminating any potential opposition. And any potential people who may, or groups, that might be some sort of a challenge to his rule. The downside of that, among many, is that when he goes and if he goes, there not many institutions in place that could fill that vacuum of power.
KING: That are is the fascinating point. You have been down talking to people on the street, this amazingly broad swath of the Egyptian population, young and old, from all walks of life. Do they get the nuance that you just outlined? That if there is to be a transition, it needs to be a very careful transition, because at the moment, there no democratic institutions. No political parties that we could say we will schedule elections in a month that could be up and running.
COOPER: They do get it, but there is also the emotion. And the anger and the frustration that built up, not just over 30 years, but the last eight days in which they have seen some 300 of their demonstrators killed, according to the U.N. 300 people have died in the last eight days, untold number have been arrested. So there is a lot of anger.
But yes, when you talk to people about what comes next. OK, if Mubarak leaves, when Mubarak leaves, what happens then? You get a wide variety of opinions. Some people are, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood. Although, experts around here estimate that's 20 or 30 percent of the population. And some people would support some like Doctor El-Baradei, in an interim government. Or some of the other political players who are on the scene.
There a lot of different ideas about what should come next. The Doctor El-Baradei says he has discussed this with protest organizers, as well as other groups. All agree there needs to be a government of unity. Doctor El-Baradei talks about a government of technocrats that tries to get Egypt up and running on par with the rest of the world, and then that leads to a transition to free and fair elections. KING: It is a fascinating drama unfolding. Anderson Cooper is right there. Much more to come tonight on "AC 360":
Anderson thanks and we will see you later on this evening.
Let's check in now with Jill Dougherty over at the State Department.
Jill, the Middle East is always delicate and difficult diplomacy, but when you look at the options here, they are bad to worse.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN SR. STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. No matter where you look, it's so highly complex, politically. In a safety sense, the crowds on the street, the emotion, and where this could head.
If you look at President Obama today, there is a lot of drama in this. Here he is watching President Mubarak saying what he hopes he will hear and that is I won't run. So, President Obama got in a sense what he wanted. President Mubarak will not run. But then, in the same breath, we are told by administration officials that they knew, or they sensed that that would not be enough for the people on the streets.
So, it's a very delicate balance. Could President Obama have said, simply, step down? That could reverberate in a very negative way with the allies of the Obama administration and the U.S. in this entire region. Basically selling him down the river, and pushing him over the edge, could get many other leaders of countries friendly to the United States very, very worried.
Also, you know, what comes next? There are questions. This is a watershed and there could be a lot more water sheds ahead. There is no real definition of what this interim government is going to be.
We don't really know how they will work with the opposition. We were just talking about the Muslim Brotherhood. Will they really let them in? The indication seems to be, among a lot of people that they should, in some fashion, be encouraged to come in because if they are on the outside, they could create even more problems. So, it is extremely complex, there is no doubt.
KING: Jill Dougherty, working for us at the State Department, long days and hours ahead. Jill, thanks so much.
When we come back we will take a closer look, if there is to be a transitional government. If somebody currently on the scene would replace President Mubarak as the leader. Who?
KING: We don't know tonight if President Hosni Mubarak will be able to keep his grip on power for weeks or months. But we do know some of the key players critical now to any negotiations with the opposition and to the stability of any caretaker or traditional government. Let's take a closer look with CNN National Security Contributor Fran Townsend. She is a veteran with the Bush White House, and Professor Shibley Telhami, still with us, from the Saban Center for Middle East Politics.
Fran, since the '50s, all Egyptian presidents have come from the military. And it is military men who are critical right now. I want to show our viewers some of the key people around President Mubarak, at the moment, who would be key intermediaries for any change.
Number one is Mohammad Hussein Tantawi; he is, right now, the minister of defense. I spent some time with his troops back in the first Gulf war, back 20 something years ago. He is age 75 years old. The minister of defense, combat service in three wars.
And Omar Suleiman, age 74, was just named, newly, the vice president. The former director of the Egyptian intelligence services, also came out of the military.
Sami Hafezenan, age 62, is the chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces and from the Egyptian air defense. He was actually here in Washington as all this unfolded. He was among those who went back.
Fran, when you look at these men, how critical are they, number one, to any negotiations? Number two, perhaps as an interim leader Egypt. And I guess number three, who of that group would be the one, or maybe it would be all three, who might have to tell President Mubarak, not good enough, sir, you need to go sooner?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Let's start with number three, I think that's easiest. Of that group the person who would be responsible to deliver that message, it is time to go now, is Omar Suleiman. He saved him from a '95 assassination attempt, Hosni Mubarak. He has served with him. He is head of the intelligence service. He is known throughout the region, and he's got the respect. If someone was to go in and say, look boss, now is now, you are going to have to go, it would be Omar Suleiman.
I don't think he's going to do that. I think he's going to try and engage in these negotiations and try to buy Mubarak some time. I mean, they are very close, both personally and professionally.
But in terms of the other two, the army chief of staff and the minister of defense, these are well respected. The army has conducted themselves very well. They've protected the Egyptian people. The Egyptian people are proud of the army in the way that they have behaved. So either man could serve as a very important and crucial role in an interim government as long as long as there was a commitment to hold elections in the near-term. You would want a military lead government in there for a long period of time. But with their commitment to hold elections quickly, I think either of the other two could actually serve.
I think Suleiman will be perceived by the Egyptian people has too closely aligned with Mubarak now to stay, although he's well known and well respected. KING: Another big question. I want to show our viewers, essentially, two faces. One the Mohammad ElBaradei, he is the veteran diplomat. He went back to Egypt in recent days. The other one, is essentially a question mark, and that is that this is a revolution that does not have a popular leader, a singular leader, if you will.
First to you Professor Telhami, then back to Fran, quickly. We are almost out of time here, but does that help President Mubarak, that there is not a known, indigenous, opposition leader? Mr. ElBaradei, for all his respect in the world, just came back to Egypt. Does it help him that there's not someone who has the respect of the Egyptian people saying, change today?
TELHAMI: Actually, it hurt him early on. Because there was no one they can target specifically. Part of the problem is they didn't know who to target or discount. So at the moment, the problem for the demonstrators that they don't know exactly how to transmit their demands. That's been an issue, obviously. But in the end, I don't think that's going to be the question pertaining to what Mubarak is going to do.
KING: Professor Telhami, thank you. Thank you, Fran. I wish we had more time. I'm sorry. I ran us a little long today. We'll get back to you tomorrow.
When we do come back, you'll want to watch this. A monster mix of snow and ice bearing down on much of the country. We'll take a closer look at the path of a very tough storm.
KING: It's being called a monster. And this huge winter storm is living up to the name. Dangerous, sprawling system pounding the Midwest with snow and ice now has the Northeast in its sights. More than 30 states, 100 million people could be affected. Thousands of flights are grounded, highways are a whiteout mess, and even the Super Bowl may feel the impact. Let's start with CNN's Ed Lavandera in Oklahoma City, where the record snow has closed the interstates-Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, if this is a monster storm, its teeth is the wind that are blowing through Oklahoma and throughout much of this storm. And is really what is causing some devastatingly painful temperatures here. Wind chill factors, minus 10. And that will be the story. The snow has finally stopped falling here in most of Oklahoma and we see that the streets are still filled with snow. Crews are starting to plow off these streets, but it will take some time. And over the next couple of days, it will be the temperatures. (AUDIO GAP) There will be subfreezing temperatures for several days to come, John.
KING: Ed Lavandera, stay safe, my friend. CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers tracking this monstrous storm.
Chad, turning into a two, three-day event now?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and it's going to spread all across the Northeast. And for New York, tomorrow morning, the ice will resume. There was ice today, it stopped, but it's coming back. Snow from Detroit all the way back down into Missouri right now. The heaviest snow is right over Chicago. It's been a mess in Chicago land. Here's a live shot from our affiliate. You can see the wind blowing across the lights right here. It's a dreadful night in Chicago right now.
It's going to continue across the Northeast as the low moves that way. And for tomorrow, we'll even get snow into New England. At least right now, it's not there yet, but you have time to prepare. There are tens of thousands of people without power tonight and temperatures will be down with wind chill factors to 5 and 10 below zero outside. Time to take some precautions now.
KING: Excellent message from Chad Myers. Take those precautions, be prepared. With all this ice be prepared for outages. We'll keep of that storm. We will also keep track of the uprising in Egypt and big political developments in Washington. See you right here tomorrow. "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.