Washington Calls Situation in Egypt 'Deplorable'

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Marco Werman: Secretary of State John Kerry said today the violence in Egypt was a serious blow to reconciliation efforts. Frank Wisner served as US Ambassador to Egypt from 1986 to '91. The Obama administration also sent him as an envoy just before Hosni Mubarak was forced out in 2011. Wisner told us that today's violence in Cairo was, in his words, inevitable.

Frank Wisner: The Muslim brothers after six weeks of negotiation were not going to seed any serious political ground and the government backed by the military were not going to surrender their place and give into the demands that the Muslim brothers had put before them. It was not possible to carry one with the city tied up in knots, and so finally, although one wished it didn't have to happen and regrets the violence, I believe that this was inevitable.

Werman: How do you think the White House should respond to what's happening? How should the US respond?

Wisner: We will obviously regret the violence, but it is extremely important to remember that Egypt is of central strategic significance to the United States.

Werman: But that strategic relationship, that's what it's all about–the US gives billions of dollars to Egypt each year, the US trains its military–this is a crisis for the United States, isn't is?

Wisner: This is not an easy passage. We don't look forward to violence, but we have to also look to our national interests and they are maintaining a close dialogue with Egypt, using that dialogue to try to promote a return to democracy. Use that dialogue to improve economic conditions in the country and to have foreign policy objectives that are in synch with Egypt's overall direction. No one wanted this to happen the way it is, but the overall national interest calls on us to work with Egypt and to see this new government settle down, stabilize and Egypt back on the path to democracy.

Werman: But the US does not have values that involve killing peaceful demonstrators, I mean

Wisner: Of course not.

Werman: So what's the US supposed to do about that? With all its money, I mean isn't their any accountability for that?

Wisner: The United States has tried to play a role as mediator to avoid the outbreak of violence, to seek a political solution. The violence that's occurring today is violence that is coming from a number of different directions, but a responsible government is, when pressed and after having exhausted other political means, have to move to restore law and order.

Werman: Ambassador, I have to say it almost feels like you're saying that what happened today in Cairo, the violence, was almost supposed to happen.

Wisner: I did not say that and I do not mean that. I believe that it would have been infinitely preferable had there been a political settlement, but after six weeks of negotiations, I could see the prospects of reaching a political settlement diminishing.

Werman: We just spoke with a Canadian woman married to an Egyptian, she's in Cairo. She was periodically supporting the democratic process by camping in solidarity with the demonstrators. She told me her worst fear is that Egypt now turns into Syria. Do you think that could happen?

Wisner: I don't think the situation is comparable, neither in the history of the country nor the ethnicities and religious composition, nor in the narrowly based government structure that Syria represents…I don't believe that's the case. Obviously, we're in the eye of the storm, but I have a sense that Egypt's core instincts are to move back towards stability and a democratic expression.

Werman: You think really Egypt can move back towards stability right now?

Wisner: I believe that that is possible, but the tone of your question implies that Egypt teeters on the verge of chaos and that I find rather farfetched.

Werman: Frank Wisner, former US Ambassador to Egypt, thank you very much for your time.

Wisner: Thank you.