SANTA BARBARA, California -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday as "a good man" and a strong friend of the United States, but said the Egyptian people will decide his fate as leader.

"He's been a good man, he's been a good friend and ally to the United States, and we need to remember that," Cheney said during a question-and-answer session at a tribute to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

"In the end whatever comes next is going to be decided by the Egyptian people," he said.

The United States has urged long-time ally Egypt to immediately begin an orderly transition to democracy after days of massive street protests to end Mubarak's 30-year rule.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday the era of suppressing political dissent in Egypt was over and he hoped Mubarak would make "the right decision."

Cheney, a frequent critic of Obama, offered no opinions on Obama's handling of the crisis but said it was important to conduct diplomacy in private.

"It is very hard for some foreign leader to act on U.S. advice in a visible way," he said.

Cheney was U.S. defense secretary in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. He said Mubarak was a vital contributor to the military response against Iraq, granting overflight rights to U.S. planes and contributing troops to the war effort.

He declined to make a prediction about Mubarak's future.

"I don't know. But I also think there comes a time for everybody when it's time to hang it up and move on," he said.

"You get to the point where the years add up, the burdens become tougher to deal with. But as I say, that's a decision that only the Egyptians can make."