NEW YORK Mohamed ElBaradei said on Saturday it would be a "major setback" if Washington backed Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak or his deputy to lead a new government and warned that protests could grow "more vicious."
ElBaradei, a veteran diplomat, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leading opposition activist, was asked about remarks from senior U.S. officials that Washington could support Mubarak or his new Vice President Omar Suleiman to lead a transitional government in Egypt.
"If that were true ... that would be a major setback, I can tell you that," he told Reuters in a telephone interview from Cairo.
"If things that I hear today (are true), that would come down like lead on the people who have been demonstrating," he said.
The United States signalled on Saturday that it wanted an orderly transition of power in Egypt that could see Mubarak remaining president until September, an apparent policy shift likely to anger protesters demanding he resign now.
"To hear ... that Mubarak should stay and lead the process of change, and that the process of change should essentially be led by his closest military adviser, who's not the most popular person in Egypt, without the sharing of power with civilians, it would be very, very disappointing," ElBaradei said.
The adviser he was referring to was Suleiman, a leading figure in the security apparatus.
FROM PEACEFUL TO BLOODY?
ElBaradei said he did not think the demonstrations were running out of steam, though he worried the situation could get even bloodier.
"There is of course a little fatigue everywhere," he said, adding that there was a "hard core" of demonstrators who would not give up as long as Mubarak held onto power.
"It might not be every day but what I hear is that they might stage demonstrations every other day," ElBaradei said. "The difference is that it would become more angry and more vicious. And I do not want to see it turning from a beautiful, peaceful revolution into a bloody revolution."
ElBaradei suggested that the United States did not appear to have a clear policy on Egypt.
"It would appear that you (the United States) are just responding to who is more powerful for each day rather than a principled position, which would be for me personally disappointing and for all the people who are demonstrating," he said.
ElBaradei made clear that the only way to defuse the political crisis would be for Mubarak to swiftly step down and for a proper caretaker government to be formed.
If Mubarak stayed on "it would make people more angry and people would be more insistent to continue with their demonstrations," he said.
"The idea of Mubarak to leave has become almost an obsession," ElBaradei said, adding that it was time for the Egyptian president to resign. "He lost the confidence, he lost trust. He failed."
El ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has suggested that he might run for the Egyptian presidency in September. Before that vote, ElBaradei said a transitional government should be formed.
"My idea was to establish a three-person presidential council," he said. "At least you'd have one person from the military but you'd have a couple of civilians. You'd have a ... proper caretaker government, as Obama even mentioned before. You'd have a proper shift to democracy."
(Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Simao)