ABC News' Luis Martinez reports:
In his first public comments on the situation in Egypt, Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised the Egyptian military for exercising restraint and urged other countries in the Middle East to note the “spontaneous manifestations” in Egypt and take on political and economic reforms.
Gates made his comments after a signing ceremony with visiting French Defense Minister Alain Juppe on an agreement between the two countries to enhance situational awareness in space.
Gates has made at least four calls to his Egyptian counterpart Field Marshal Tantawi in the two weeks since Egyptians took to the streets to call for President Mubarak to step down, but few details have been provided about what they have discussed. Today, Gates provided a little clarity about those calls when he said the Egyptian military has “acted with great restraint and frankly they’ve done everything that we’ve indicated we would hope that they would do.”
He added that he felt the Egyptian military “have made a contribution to the evolution of democracy” with their restraint. Gates reiterated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments about the need for an orderly transition in Egypt, “but it needs to be a transition that continues to move forward and where people can see steady pace in implementing the number of reforms that have been announced and to which the Egyptian government has committed to.” He said moving forward and fulfilling those promises “is quite critical.”
Asked about a possible Domino Effect in the region, Gates described the events in Tunisia and Egypt as “ a spontaneous manifestation of discontent on the part of people who feel they have both economic and political grievances.” He said that U.S. officials have long pointed out these grievances to other governments in the region and urged them to address these issues. He said,“ my hope would be that other governments in the region, seeing this spontaneous action in both Tunisia and Egypt, will take measures to begin moving in a positive direction toward addressing the economic and political grievances of their people.”
Juppe said it was important for free and fair elections to take place in Egypt and Tunisia because they are the basis of democratic regimes and he expressed the hope that the process would take place without violence. He said “we have to bet on democratic forces that will emerge and will not confiscate democracy in favor of other things after elections, as unfortunately has happened elsewhere.” He added, “I think this betting must be taken.”
He said that authoritarian leaders in the region have “told us for a long time that it’s either them in place or Islamic chaos.” Juppe said it is important right now for opposition figures to get organized, something that could take some time given the “trademarks” of authoritarian regimes to suppress opposition groups while in power.