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Why is US so quiet as regimes crack down on 'Arab Spring' protesters?

State Department spoke Thursday of 'deep concern' about violence against protesters in Yemen. Meanwhile, tumult ensues from Syria to Libya. Critics: Obama has no real policy on 'Arab Spring.'

By Staff writer / May 12, 2011

Antigovernment protesters shout slogans during a demonstration to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz on May 12.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters



The United States is “deeply concerned” about recent violence in Yemen against peaceful protesters, and it supports an agreement brokered by the Gulf states that envisions a “peaceful transition of power,” the State Department said Thursday, in a statement.

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The statement, which seemed to consciously avoid citing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by name, nevertheless stood out. It was one public notation by the Obama administration of events in the Middle East, on a day when violence and conflict flared from Syria to Libya.

The relative dearth of reaction from Washington is causing speculation as to why the Obama administration is keeping so quiet.

To some foreign policy specialists, developments in the Middle East cry out for a US response. In addition to Yemen, Syrian forces continued their attacks on pockets of antigovernment protest – with some authorities predicting ominously that the end of the protests is near – and Libyan rebels claimed crucial territorial gains against the forces of leader Muammar Qaddafi as NATO renewed its bombardment of Colonel Qaddafi’s compound.

One factor some political and regional analysts suggest may be at play is that President Obama plans to deliver a major speech on the Middle East as early as next week. With the president presumably working with staff on the message or points he wants to convey, the impulse may be to hold off on official commentary until then, some political experts say.

The White House did announce that national security adviser Tom Donilon will meet Friday with a delegation from the Libyan Transitional National Council, including its president, Mahmoud Gibril.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday Mr. Obama planned to deliver the speech “in the relatively near future,” but some analysts speculate that the president may want to offer his vision for a new Middle East before he sits down at the White House next Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yet another reason for the administration’s relative quiet may be a point Obama is expected to make in his speech: that, notwithstanding impressive and even occasionally history-altering events like the mission against Osama bin Laden, the US has little power on its own to bring change to the Middle East, and that change must come from within.


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