LISTEN: White House Spokesman Gibbs Walks Difficult Line On Mubarak

January 31, 2011

Mark Memmott

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How far to go in expressing support for the demonstrators demanding freedom, democracy and that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down vs. the uknowns and potential dangers involved if Egypt's leader leaves office?

Those are the thorny issues facing Obama administration officials as they try to answer questions about where the U.S. stands.

You can read and hear how the administration is trying to walk the line between supporting human rights and the dangers of the Middle East in this exchange that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs had just a short time ago with NBC News' Chuck Todd:

Todd: "As far as Mubarak is concerned. So, when you say 'orderly transition,' why is it that you're hesitating? It's clear that you're calling ... that the United States' position is — you want an orderly regime change, is that not correct?"

Gibbs: "Again, again; I want to be careful because I don't want you to put words in my mouth ... "

Todd: "I understand ... 'Orderly transition' — it seems you're calling for a change in government."

Gibbs: "No, we're calling for a change in the way the country works."

Todd: "So, if Mubarak implemented all that change you'd be OK with it?"

Gibbs: "The determination as to when that change is met or how that change happens is not going to be determined or dictated by our country — no more, Chuck, than I'm going to determine what ... freedom of speech means to you or to NBC. That's not for me to determine. Why would it be for me to determine for Egypt?

"... Why would anybody who seeks greater freedom in Egypt be looking for my sign-off on what that means?"

Todd: "But it seems to me that many of the protesters are upset about the perception that the U.S. government looks like it's still backing Mubarak."

Gibbs: "I do not think that those protesters would be assuaged by the notion that somebody in a series of buildings several thousand miles away have [sic] determined the extent to what that means for them. That is for the people of Egypt to decide and determine." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.