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Washington's hopes for the 'day of departure'

Mark Mardell | 03:54 UK time, Friday, 4 February 2011

At a prayer breakfast today President Obama said, "The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go."

Mr Mubarak's defiance may have Mr Obama on his knees in prayer, but certainly not in submission. The White House is preparing, in great detail, for a world after Hosni Mubarak.

The New York Times says there is "a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately, turning over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military". The White House denys there's a single plan but does not apparently baulk at the guts of the story. The National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor told the BBC: "The president has said that now is the time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations. We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people."

The president's spokesman has said "now means yesterday". As we go forward into February "now" presumably means the day before yesterday.

Washington is not idle. In fact, long hours are being worked with people from the administration forcefully relaying the same message time and time again to the members of the Egyptian government and the army. They are saying that Mr Mubarak has lost the confidence of the Egyptian people and the international community. But Western diplomats frankly admit the levers at their disposal may be insufficient to oust him.

The Egyptian president adopted his own envoy for a blunt message back to the US. He chose one of the best known journalists in America, ABC's Christiane Amanpour, to relay it. In an off-camera, on-the-record interview he told her that Mr Obama was a good man but he doesn't understand Egypt. Mr Mubarak said he's fed up. He would like to step down but chaos and the Muslim Brotherhood would surely follow.

The Vice-President Omar Suleiman also predicted chaos if Mr Mubarak resigned, saying it would leave a body without a head.

Meanwhile the Obama administration is quietly but aggressively preparing a road map for the world after Mr Mubarak. It apparently includes taking a sterner public tone with allies in the region. Mr Obama called President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen to welcome his announcement that neither he nor his son would stand in the 2013 elections. He also told the Yemeni leader that he needs to follow up with concrete reforms and asked that Yemeni security forces show restraint and refrain from violence against demonstrators who are exercising their right to free association.

Whether or not this crisis is one of those that forces Mr Mubarak to his knees, Friday is the day of public prayer in the Muslim world and has been designated by demonstrators as the "day of departure". Washington is praying they are right.

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