Wed, Feb 02, 2011 - Page 6 News List

UNREST IN NORTH AFRICA: Obama dispatches seasoned diplomat on mission to Cairo

NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

The administration of US President Barack Obama has dispatched a diplomatic troubleshooter with close ties to Egypt on a mission to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other senior officials, as the administration struggles to gauge Mubarak’s intentions.

The diplomat, Frank Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt who knows Mubarak, landed in Cairo on Monday, US Department of State spokesman Philip Crowley said.

He declined to say whether Wisner, who served as ambassador from 1986 to 1991, was carrying a message from Obama.

“He knows some of the key players within the Egyptian government,” Crowley said.

The choice of Wisner, 72, a respected elder of the foreign policy establishment, raised questions about whether the administration was using him as an emissary to gently prod Mubarak to resign. Administration officials declined to say whether they had sent Wisner with any kind of message.

However, one senior official said: “When you have old friends get together, it’s a two-way conversation.”

Speaking to reporters, Crowley said: “We’ve sent a very clear message to Egypt, publicly and privately, but obviously ambassador Wisner will have the opportunity to reinforce what we’ve already said.”

Wisner has experience in delicate diplomacy. In 2006 and 2007, he served as a special envoy for then-US president George W. Bush, negotiating the independence of Kosovo and its recognition as a sovereign state by other countries.

“He negotiated very skillfully between the Serbs and the Kosovars,” said Nicholas Burns, a former US under secretary of state for political affairs, who worked with him during that period. “He is that rare person of high intellect and great operational capability. He is also a very persuasive person.”

Although Wisner is a decade younger than the 82-year-old Mubarak, friends said he was the right generation to speak candidly to the president about his options. If he were to nudge Mubarak to step down, these people said, he probably would not do so immediately, but over a series of conversations.

“That’s the kind of guy you would choose to have that conversation,” said Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to both Egypt and Israel. “The key question, which we don’t know the answer to, is whether the administration has reached a decision on whether Mubarak should go.”

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