WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department is set to evacuate U.S. citizens from Egypt on chartered planes, but it is relying largely on friends and families in the United States to relay that information to stranded Americans.
The charters were flying out of Cairo, and Assistant Secretary of State Janice Jacobs said the United States was looking at Athens, Istanbul and Nicosia, Cyprus, as destinations.
A U.S. military plane landed at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus on Monday afternoon ferrying 42 U.S. Embassy officials and their dependents from Egypt. The U.S. Embassy in Nicosia said at least one more plane was expected Monday with about 180 people, most of them U.S. citizens.
Ms. Jacobs told reporters Sunday that she expects it will take several flights over the coming days to handle the number of Americans who want to leave Egypt, where rioters are threatening to overturn the ruling regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Ms. Jacobs acknowledged that Internet interruptions in Egypt are making it difficult for Americans there to get information about the evacuations. But she said they have been able to get information from people in the United States who do have access to State Department and embassy websites.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for an orderly transition to lasting democracy in Egypt even as escalating violence threatened Mideast stability. She refused to speculate on Mr. Mubarak’s future and his teetering government, but said U.S. officials “obviously want to see people who are truly committed to democracy, not to imposing any ideology on Egyptians.”
She warned Sunday against a takeover resembling the one in Iran, with a “small group that doesn’t represent the full diversity of Egyptian society” seizing control and imposing its ideological beliefs.
Though the U.S. military is watching developments closely, the Defense Department has not been asked to involve itself in the State Department’s evacuation plan, Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman, said Monday.
That presumably could change if the threat to Americans in Egypt were to become too great and if it becomes impossible for citizens to get out of the country commercially.
The United States wants to see “real democracy” emerge in Egypt, Mrs. Clinton said, “not a democracy for six months or a year and then evolving into essentially a military dictatorship or a so-called democracy that then leads to what we saw in Iran.”
Mrs. Clinton. who was interviewed on all five major Sunday-morning news shows, made clear there are no discussions at this time about cutting off aid to Egypt, which receives about $1.5 billion in annual foreign assistance from the United States to help modernize its armed forces and strengthen regional security and stability. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday that military and civilian aid was under review.
Ms. Jacobs said the United States will have enough flights to take out all American citizens and dependents who want to leave. And the United States may also send charter planes to other cities in Egypt, such as Luxor, if there are a number of Americans stranded there. She said Americans with tickets on commercial airlines first should contact those carriers about getting out.
Americans taking the charter will be billed for the cost of the flight and will need to make their own travel arrangements home after arriving in Europe.
According to the State Department, about 52,000 Americans are registered with the embassy in Cairo. Officials noted, however, that many people don’t register — or deregister when they leave — and some Americans may not want to leave.
Americans looking for information on the flights should monitor the State Department and embassy websites or send an e-mail to email@example.com. They can also call toll-free, 888/407-4747, from within the United States and Canada. From outside the U.S. and Canada, people can call 202/501-4444.
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this story.
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