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Egypt Needs Reform, Not Tanks, as Protest Response, Axelrod Says

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Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government will push Egypt “very hard” to make democratic reforms in response to demonstrations by thousands of people challenging President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, White House adviser David Axelrod said.

“The answer is not tanks in the street,” Axelrod said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “The answer is reform.”

In a televised statement from the White House yesterday, President Barack Obama said he called Mubarak just after the Egyptian leader gave a late-night address to his nation. Obama said he told Mubarak that he had a “responsibility to give meaning” to his promises of social, political and economic reforms and needed to take “concrete steps” toward achieving them.

“The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people,” Obama said.

Mubarak, in his televised address in Cairo, said he had asked the country’s government to resign. The new government will fight poverty, speed economic and social changes, and promote civil liberties and democracy, he said.

Axelrod drew a connection between the protests in Egypt and those in Tunisia that brought down the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali earlier this month.

“I don’t think you can put the genie back in the bottle,” he said.

Debt Ceiling Debate

On domestic politics, Axelrod said congressional debate about raising the U.S. $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which is likely to be reached within months, should be separated from the debate over where to cut federal spending.

“I expect people to act responsibly and understand that we’re not going to play politics with the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” he said.

Following midterm elections last year that narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate and gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, Axelrod said Americans are looking for both parties to cooperate.

He said Obama will announce a budget proposal next month that will include “painful” cuts. It will start a discussion with Republicans on how to tackle government spending and the budget deficit, which is forecast to grow to $1.5 trillion this year, he said.

Republicans will need to introduce some specific proposals, Axelrod said.

“The American people are looking for us to cooperate,” he said. “They understand we’ve got big challenges, and we’re only going to solve them by working together.”

Republicans have insisted that budget cuts be made before voting on any increase in the debt ceiling.

‘Sense of Comfort’

Axelrod said the president’s new chief of staff, William Daley, is fitting in well with the White House team.

“There is a sense of comfort with him already,” Axelrod said of Daley, who most recently was an executive at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and served President Bill Clinton as Commerce secretary. “He’s providing good, strong direction, but he’s doing it in a very collegial way.”

And he said there is a “good” chance that Obama will play golf with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, to encourage trust and cooperation between the two parties.

“He’s willing to do that, even to the point that he’d play golf with a guy who has a much lower handicap than he does,” Axelrod said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicholas Johnston in Washington at njohnston3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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