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White House emboldened by Egypt bloodshed

Mark Mardell | 03:52 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011

Amid the violence on the streets of Cairo one pro-Mubarak demonstrator holds aloft a hand made sign reading "Shut up Obama".

But the disorder on the streets has only sharpened the Obama's administration appetite for a confrontation. ABC says Obama is "very concerned" that President Hosni Mubarak is delaying. The Wall Street Journal says the White House has a new plan for a speedy transfer of power. The New York Times says the CIA is war-gaming how that will play in the region.

However you put it, it amounts to one thing. The White House, as much as the pro-democracy protesters, is demanding "Mubarak must go".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has telephoned the new vice-president and intelligence chief of two decades, Omar Suleiman, to tell him immediately to seize the opportunity for a transition to a more democratic society. That transition must start now. She said that the violence was shocking and told him that they must investigate the violence and hold those responsible accountable.

You might have thought that after all their initial pussyfooting caution, the bloodshed might have given the Obama administration second thoughts about whether it was wise to back the protesters and scorn Mubarak's promise to go in September. Not a bit of it. If anything it has emboldened it to be more open about its wishes and made it more determined to winkle him out.

Others have joined the fray. Shortly after a very rare meeting with the US president, former Republican presidential candidate John McCain issued a statement:

"The rapidly deteriorating situation in Egypt leads me to the conclusion that President Mubarak needs to step down and relinquish power. It is clear that the only institution in Egypt that can restore order is the army, but I fear that for it to do so on behalf of a government led by or involving President Mubarak would only escalate the violence and compromise the army's legitimacy."

A Western diplomat tells me that their best intelligence suggests that secret police were among those causing the violence and that it was almost certainly orchestrated by those very close to Mubarak. He saw it as a last desperate throw of the dice by a leader who is badly misreading the public mood.

There are frantic conversations taking place between Washington and Cairo. We can't know the details but surely the main players are being urged to action. What happens on the streets is very important. It colours the outcome and may decide it. But short of bloody revolution, only the army and those in Mubarak's inner circle can force him to go.

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