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Obama administration statements on Egypt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, remarks with Spanish foreign minister, January 25:

QUESTION: [T]here are some major demonstrations in Egypt today, and I'm wondering if there is concern in Washington about the stability of the Egyptian Government, of course, a very valuable ally of the United States?

[...]

SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to Egypt, which, as your question implied, like many countries in the region, has been experiencing demonstrations.  We know that they've occurred not only in Cairo but around the country, and we're monitoring that very closely.  We support the fundamental right of expression and assembly for all people, and we urge that all parties exercise restraint and refrain from violence.  But our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people. 

President Barack Obama, State of the Union address, January 25:

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.  And tonight, let us be clear:  The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. 

White House press secretary statement, January 25:

As we monitor the situation in Egypt, we urge all parties to refrain from using violence, and expect the Egyptian authorities to respond to any protests peacefully.  We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.  The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper.  The United States is committed to working with Egypt and the Egyptian people to advance these goals.

More broadly, what is happening in the region reminds us that, as the President said in Cairo, we have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and free of corruption; and the freedom to live as you choose - these are human rights and we support them everywhere.

Clinton, remarks with Jordanian foreign minister, January 26:

SECRETARY CLINTON: Before I talk about our meeting today, I want to say a word about the protests taking place in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. As we monitor this situation carefully, we call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence. We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. And we urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites.

We believe strongly that the Egyptian Government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic, and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people. The United States is committed to working with Egypt and with the Egyptian people to advance such goals. As I said recently in Doha, people across the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking a chance to contribute and have a role in the decisions that affect their lives. And as the President said in his State of the Union yesterday night, the United States supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

When I was recently in the region, I met with a wide range of civil society groups, and I heard firsthand about their ideas, which were aimed at improving their countries, of giving more space and voice to the aspirations for the future. We have consistently raised with the Egyptian Government over many years, as well as other governments in the region, the need for reform and greater openness and participation in order to provide a better life, a better future, for the people.

[...]

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, I'd like to follow up on your opening statement on Egypt. In Tunisia, the United States was quick to support the aspirations of the protestors. Will the United States support the aspirations of the Egyptian protestors? Mr. Minister, is Jordan worried about these protests spreading elsewhere in the region? Madam Secretary, there are reports already that Egypt has shut down Twitter and Facebook. Do you plan to bring this up with the Egyptian Government directly?

And if I may stay in the region on behalf of a colleague and go a little further south - (laughter) - to Sudan, your meeting later today with the foreign minister of Sudan. Is the United States ready at this point to take them off the terror list? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I hope I'm awake enough to remember all those questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: I remember mine.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good, good. (Laughter.)

Well, first, let me say clearly the United States supports the aspirations of all people for greater freedom, for self-government, for the rights to express themselves, to associate and assemble, to be part of the full, inclusive functioning of their society. And of course, that includes the Egyptian people. I think that what the President said last night in the State of the Union applies not only to Tunisia, not only to Egypt, but to everyone. And we are particularly hopeful that the Egyptian Government will take this opportunity to implement political, economic, and social reforms that will answer the legitimate interests of the Egyptian people. And we are committed, as we have been, to working toward that goal with Egyptian civil society, with the Egyptian Government, with the people of that great country.

[...]

With respect to the Egyptian Government, I do think it's possible for there to be reforms, and that is what we are urging and calling for. And it is something that I think everyone knows must be on the agenda of the government as they not just respond to the protest, but as they look beyond as to what needs to be done economically, socially, politically. And there are a lot of very well informed, active civil society leaders in Egypt who have put forward specific ideas for reform, and we are encouraging and urging the Egyptian Government to be responsive to that.

P.J. Crowley, press briefing, January 26:

QUESTION: P.J., on Egypt, are you aware of reports that a number of journalists have been detained, some of them roughed up, by Egyptian police in trying to cover the demonstrations? And if you are, what do you make of this?

MR. CROWLEY: We are aware that certain reporters have been detained, I think a couple of AP reporters in particular. We have raised this issue already with the ministry of foreign affairs and we will continue to monitor these cases until they are successfully resolved.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you say you've raised the issue with the ministry of foreign affairs, does that mean you've said that you expect that these people will be released or that they will be treated well?

MR. CROWLEY: We are calling for the release of journalists, yes. Absolutely, and we will continue to raise this with the Egyptian Government if it is not quickly resolved.

QUESTION: Okay. And then more broadly, the Egyptians say that they've arrested close to - I think it's close to a thousand people now. What about those people?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary made clear in her remarks earlier today, we believe it's vitally important for Egypt to respect the universal right of its people to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right to peacefully protest. Our Ambassador, Margaret Scobey, had a meeting today with the Egyptian Government. She expressed our concern about the situation and the need for the Egyptian Government to demonstrate restraint. She also raised the issue of interference with social media. Internet freedom is just as important as a citizen's right to enter a city square or criticize the government without fear of reprisal.

QUESTION: When you say that Scobey met with the - who did she meet with?

MR. CROWLEY: She met with the Minister of State for Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab.

Goyal. Oh, I should mention one thing. Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman left Tunisia today. He's now in Paris conferring with his counterpart within the French Government. But he met today with civil society representatives and had a press conference with Tunisian media. And that's the latest on him as well.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for him to go to Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Any plans for him to go to Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: I don't think so. I think he's coming back here tomorrow. I think there's a conference later this week on Iraq that he plans to attend.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. He's in Paris talking about what? About Lebanon or Tunisia?

MR. CROWLEY: He's meeting with his counterpart. I have no doubt that the bulk of the conversation will be on Lebanon.

QUESTION: Just on the reform issue with the Secretary this morning and the statement last night --

MR. CROWLEY: But yeah, I think he'll also talk about Tunisia.

QUESTION: -- was talking about that now's a good time for Mubarak maybe to move ahead with some reforms. And you talked broadly about the political, economic, social opportunity. Does the U.S. Government have any specific ideas about political reforms, which might improve the situation in Egypt, and are you making those suggestions to them?

MR. CROWLEY: This is a conversation that we've had with Egypt for some time. We do believe that political reform is important for Egypt, just as it's important for other countries in the region. We have long called for Egypt to create greater space for broader participation in its political process. Our concern and the fact that we have raised this issue with Egypt is longstanding, actually.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, press gaggle, January 26:

Q    Robert, last night you issued a statement calling on the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful assembly.  Today, as you've seen, they've banned gatherings and they've cracked down on Twitter and Facebook.  What is your response to that?  And my second question is, do you still back Hosni Mubarak?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, obviously we are monitoring quite closely the situation in Egypt and continue to do so, obviously, in Tunisia.  You heard the President speak about universal rights last night in the State of the Union.

We continue to believe, first and foremost, that any of the parties -- all of the parties should refrain from violence.  We support, as the President mentioned last night about the people of Tunisia, the universal rights of the people of Egypt.  And this is an important time for the government to demonstrate its responsiveness to the people of Egypt in recognizing those universal rights.

So we're going to continue to monitor the situation.  I got a couple updates very early this morning, and we'll try to get more as we go along the day.

Q    But do you believe they should lift the ban on protests?  Should they allow these demonstrations to go ahead as long as they're peaceful?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, yes, we are supportive of the universal right for assembly and speech.  Those are universal values.

Again, I think we would stress quite clearly, for all involved, that expression should be free of violence.  Again, we're working with -- obviously we have a close and important ally in Egypt and they will continue to be.

Q    And as you stand today, you still back President Mubarak?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, Egypt is a strong ally.

Crowley, press briefing, January 27:

QUESTION: Egypt. Does the U.S. Government have any view about the return of former IAEA Director General Mohamed elBaradei to Egypt.

MR. CROWLEY: This is a matter for the Egyptian people and how they view his return.

QUESTION: Would you like to see more potential political candidates showing up in Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: We would like to see political reform in Egypt, as we've made clear for a number of years, and a broader opportunity for people to participate in the political process in Egypt. How that - what that actually means in terms of who might run for what office, that's, again, a matter for the Egyptian people.

QUESTION: Was there a particular significance to Secretary Clinton's language yesterday when she said that "Egypt had an opportunity for political, economic, and social reform at this moment in time"? Normally, your exhortations for political reforms in other countries, and particularly in Egypt, are much less specific in terms of time. Was she trying to signal a particular urgency because of the protests?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is actually not necessarily a new issue. We've had - this has been part -

QUESTION: I didn't say it was a new issue.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I know that. And -

QUESTION: Then why are you saying it's not a new issue? I didn't say it was, right?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me continue.

QUESTION: Please do.

MR. CROWLEY: This is an issue that we have talked at length with Egypt for quite some time. We have made investments over the years to try to help expand Egyptian civil society. Clearly, what you are seeing this week is very significant public protests in Egypt. As the Secretary made clear, we want to see Egyptian authorities allow and enable those protests to occur peacefully. We've also made clear that we want to make sure that there's no interference with the opportunity for the Egyptian people to use social media. But to the extent that we obviously see that, country by country across the region, people are watching what has happened in Tunisia, country by country, population by population, they are drawing lessons from what is happening.

Now, what happens going forward will be something that develops indigenously, country by country. We're not looking at this as - there's a regional dynamic, if you will, in the sense that many - as the Secretary said in her speech in Doha, across the region from the Middle East to North Africa, countries do face similar demographic challenges - young populations, highly educated, very motivated, looking for jobs, looking for opportunities, and quite honestly, frustrated by, depending on the country, what they see as a lack of opportunity. This is bringing more people out into streets. This is bringing forward public calls for a greater dialogue, greater opportunity. And the Secretary, given what we are seeing and observing in Egypt, was responding to current events.

QUESTION: So that phrase implies that she does indeed see a greater - see the need for reform with greater urgency because of the protests and violence?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, because of - everyone has been watching what's happening in Tunisia, drawing lessons from what's happening in Tunisia, it has created an opportunity. It's an opportunity that presents itself in Egypt. It's an opportunity that presents itself in Yemen. And we believe that governments need to take advantage of this opportunity to expand their dialogue with their populations and respond to the aspirations of their people.

QUESTION: Wouldn't you have preferred - I mean, presumably they've had this opportunity for many years, not just in the last three, four weeks. Wouldn't it have been better if these governments had taken advantage of this - of these important opportunities before blood was shed in the streets?

MR. CROWLEY: Well - and obviously, we deplore the deaths that have occurred among protesters and the security forces. I mean, I think we need to be careful here. Obviously, there is a dynamic that is underway within the region. But the - what happens from this point forward will rely on indigenous actions that happen country by country. The solution in Tunisia is not the solution in Egypt is not the solution in Yemen. And yet because people are observing what's happening, they're reacting to what's happening, it is an important moment for these countries to find ways to respond. And that was the message that the Secretary gave to leaders in Doha. And we're clearly seeing that there's an opportunity here, and it will be best for these countries if they actively respond at this time to obvious concerns and the voices of their people.

QUESTION: All right. And so you --

QUESTION: Are you simply telling the Egyptian Government that you need to reform to stay in power? Are you getting --

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: -- that specific?

MR. CROWLEY: This should happen because it's important for these countries to reform and evolve. This has not happened because we, the United States, are telling any country what to do. We see a dynamic in the region, as the Secretary said. The status quo in the Middle East and North Africa is not sustainable. The fact is that they have young populations that are looking for more than their respective countries and governments are currently giving them. And it is better for governments to respond when moments like this occur.

So we think that this can happen, change can happen, in a stable environment. In fact, if you look at Tunisia, even though protests do continue, in order to get to where the people of Tunisia want to go - to credible peaceful elections - you're going to have to have calm in society so that these events can be generated. Jeff Feltman is on his way back from Paris and will be looking at how can we contribute expertise to help build a credible process so the Tunisian people can have the opportunities - opportunity to influence their future. But obviously, it has to be a peaceful environment for things like this to occur.

QUESTION: P.J., that was a fine answer, but I'm not sure it was the answer to Lachlan's question. (Laughter.) His question was are you telling the Egyptian Government --

MR. CROWLEY: I heard fine answer.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Egyptian Government that they need to adopt reform? That was his question.

MR. CROWLEY: No, we're --

QUESTION: And - hold on a second. As the Secretary said yesterday --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as a friend, we're --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait --

MR. CROWLEY: We're offering our advice to Egypt. But what they do is up to them.

QUESTION: Well, fair enough. But what the Secretary said yesterday was reform must be on the agenda for the Egyptian Government. How is that not telling them that they should reform, enact reforms?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we're giving Egypt and other countries our best advice.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are telling them that they should reform.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we're - no, I didn't hear that. I thought - I thought was there a particular - was there something in particular that we wanted to see Egypt do.

QUESTION: I think the transcript will reflect that what Lachlan asked was: Are you urging the Egyptian Government to reform to stay in power?

QUESTION: That's correct.

MR. CROWLEY: This is not an either/or proposition. It's not up to us to determine who, in the future, will lead the people of Egypt. That is a choice for the people of Egypt. We want to see political, economic, and social reform that opens up the opportunity for Egyptian people, just as the people of other countries, to more significantly influence who will lead their country in the future and the direction of that country and the opportunities generated in that country.

QUESTION: Could you be a little more specific, like would you recommend that they hold elections the way the Tunisians are heading, that they need some credible elections after the ones in November that you didn't like?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, that's an important distinction. We encourage reform. We want to see greater opportunity generated. How that happens will be something that develops country by country. We are willing, as a partner and a friend and an ally of Egypt, to help in that process if Egypt is willing. But as the Secretary said, we definitely believe that reform is needed. No question about that.

QUESTION: But are you talking about elections with them? Are you getting that specific?

MR. CROWLEY: We have always talked to Egypt about elections and the character of the elections that they have had and concerns that we've had about who gets to run and the dynamic and the environment surrounding elections.

QUESTION: And in light of the --

MR. CROWLEY: We did not hesitate earlier this year to express - or last year express our concerns about that.

QUESTION: So you must be urging them to do a better job next time, and you might be telling them maybe to do it sooner rather than later?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said, we're encouraging reform, clearly. But exactly what the government does and how they do it and on what timeline, that is a matter for the government to work with its own population.

QUESTION: All right. And so at the risk of you just dropping the word "Egypt" and substituting "Yemen" in everything you've been saying for the last 15 minutes --

QUESTION: Can I ask - can I stay with Egypt for just one last one?

QUESTION: Well, this is going to be - all right.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on something from yesterday. You mentioned that there were several overtures from U.S. officials to the Egyptian Government about the detention of journalists and about stopping social media sites. I was curious if you were satisfied with any --

MR. CROWLEY: I believe the journalists have been released, by the way.

QUESTION: -- satisfied with any response that you - or reaction that you've seen from the Egyptian Government since then.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, at this point, I did ask if we had any high-level conversations with Egypt over the last couple of days. I'm not aware of any. Our interaction has primarily been through the Embassy. But I'm not aware that we've had any particular feedback from Egypt at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. No, but in their actions, I guess I was referring to, regarding the detention of journalists that they --

MR. CROWLEY: Like I say, I can't speak for whatever discussions have happened with the government and our ambassador and embassy staff in Cairo, but I believe I saw a report earlier today that my counterpart in Egypt, or one of my counterparts in Egypt, has acknowledged that there is a need for a dialogue with those who are protesting. And that would be the kind of thing that we would encourage.

Gibbs, press briefing, January 27:

Q    And in Egypt, street protests are continuing.  Former IAEA chief ElBaradei has returned to the country and is calling for Mubarak to step down.  How would the -- does the administration see ElBaradei as a viable alternative to Mubarak?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's broaden the discussion and have a little bit of a discussion about some of the events in Egypt.  First and foremost -- and I said this yesterday, but I want to reiterate it -- that there's an obligation by the government not to engage in violence.  There's an obligation by those that are protesting not to engage in violence by burning government buildings.  So, first and foremost, this is a process that should be conducted peacefully, and that is one of our primary concerns.

I'm not going to get into different personalities except to say that we believe that this represents an opportunity for President Mubarak and for the government of Egypt to demonstrate its willingness to listen to its own people and to devise a way to broaden the discussion and take some necessary actions on political reform.  Those are issues that the President talks with President Mubarak about every time they meet, and I doubt that there is a high-level meeting that happens between the two countries in a bilateral nature where those issues aren't brought up.

Q    And how concerned is the administration that the unrest, the upheaval in the Middle East, is now spreading to Yemen, which is a key base for al Qaeda?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think it is important not to -- because every country is different and every country is at a different stage in its political development -- to not generalize across the platform.  So I think you heard the President talk about the people of Tunisia, and I think myself and the Secretary of State have said quite a bit on Egypt.  Again, I hate to generalize across a whole series of countries at different stages in their political development and their history.

Dan.

Q    Just to follow on Egypt, does the White House believe that the Egyptian government is stable?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes. 

Q    So Hosni Mubarak has the full support of the President? 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, Dan, I think it's important to -- this isn't a choice between the government and the people of Egypt.  Egypt, we know -- and President Mubarak has for several decades been a close and important partner with our country.  And every time the President meets with President Mubarak -- and I would point you to the speech in Cairo in 2009 where the President also specifically addresses this, as well as the readout that we put out on the September meeting that the President had with President Mubarak as part of the Middle East peace process -- that we consistently have advocated for the universal rights of assembly, of free speech, of political reform.  All of those are important and we have at every turn encouraged President Mubarak to find a way to engender that political discourse in a positive way.  And we will continue to do that.

Q    On Egypt, Mubarak has been the leader of Egypt and the United States has worked with him for a very long time.  By not vocally supporting him but simply saying we support the people of Egypt, is that sending a message to the people who are out there protesting against him that they should just go full-bore and is that going to inflame the situation?  And is that what the President is trying to do?

MR. GIBBS:  No, again, I --

Q    It sounds like he's being tossed aside to a lot of people.

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, again, it's what I said to Dan, Chip.  This isn't -- our government and this administration and I presume previous administrations aren't here to pick the leaders of countries over the people of those countries.  We stand for the universal rights that are enshrined in our Constitution and what led our country to be created more than two centuries ago.  We think that and believe strongly that those rights are held by those throughout the world.

Just recently when President Hu was here, the President discussed universal rights.  We do not see this as a choice between one or the other, and I don't believe it should be.  We think that -- again, he is a close and important partner.

Q    He is?

MR. GIBBS:  He is.  And every time the two meet the President talks about the steps that he believes that President Mubarak should be taking to have that fuller conversation and to make some important reforms as it relates to political freedoms, we believe -- and they'll have an opportunity to do this later this year -- to have free and fair elections.  We believe that the emergency law that's been largely in place since 1981 should be lifted, and spoke out in a statement by me that its extension was not a good thing.  It gives the government obviously extra judicial powers, which we don't find to be necessary.

So all of these things we will continue to push and prod President Mubarak on in order, again, to create a situation peacefully -- peacefully -- and I think that needs to be underscored, both the government and the protesters -- to get into a place where a political dialogue can take place.

Q    Since he has been so heavy-handed for so many years and you are saying that the most important thing here is adherence to international human rights or the international rights of the people of Egypt, would it be a good thing if he were overthrown?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get into picking the leaders of Egypt and that's not what the government of this country does.  Again, I think that what is important is we can -- President Mubarak and those that seek greater freedom of expression, greater freedom to assemble, should be able to work out a process for that happening in a peaceful way.

Q    The perception by many on the ground in Egypt is the United States is taking sides here -- not with Mubarak, but with the people out there protesting.  Is that accurate?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I'll say this for the third time.  This is not about taking sides.  This is not about choosing --

Q    But I'm saying the perception there is that you're taking sides.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me try it a fourth time.  This is not about taking sides.  So I hope you'll perceive to them that, again --

Q    We don't perceive -- they perceive from you, not us.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I hope you'll play each of the four times in which I said it's not a choice that you make.

Q    And one other question on this --

MR. GIBBS:  Because, again, let me just -- when President Mubarak was in the Oval Office in September, these were issues that were brought up.  When the President spoke with President Mubarak around the events that were taking place in Tunisia -- again, go to the readout that we put out about that.  It's very explicit that the President talked about the political reforms that have for quite some time needed to take place in Egypt.

So this is a sustained and important message that we want to deliver to President Mubarak, to the government of Egypt, and we think they have an important role to play.

Q    There are some analysts who believe the President is expressing that message much more forcefully now than, for example, he did during the Iran uprising; that he was a bit slow and cautious then in supporting the people out in the streets but he's not now.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think our response has been quite similar in speaking out in support of universal rights.  The President I know spoke with you all in the Rose Garden prior to the Iranian elections.  And, again, as I said earlier, I hate to -- political conditions and development in different countries are different, and I would hate to generalize.

Obama, YouTube interview, January 27:

QUESTION: Over the past few days in Egypt, people have taken to the streets of Cairo and been filming their experiences. A lot of people wrote in from the streets of Cairo wondering your reaction to the events that are taking place there. Kam Hawy wrote in saying: Dear President Obama: Regarding the current situation in the Middle East and Egypt over the past two days, what do you think of the Egyptian government blocking social networks to prevent people from expressing their opinions?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me say first of all that Egypt's been an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues: They made peace with Israel; President Mubarak has been very helpful on a range of tough issues in the Middle East. But I've always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform (political reform, economic reform) is absolutely critical to the long-term wellbeing of Egypt. And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets. My main hope right now is that violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt. So the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence, and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence.

And I think that it is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances. As I said in my State of the Union speech, there are certain core value that we believe in as Americans that we believe are universal: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, people being able to use social networking or any other mechanisms to communicate with each other and express their concerns. And I think that is no less true in the Arab world than it is here in the United States.

Vice President Joseph Biden, PBS Newshour, January 27:

JIM LEHRER: Has the time come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go, to stand aside?

JOE BIDEN: No, I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that -- to be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.

These are -- a lot of the people out there protesting are middle-class folks who are looking for a little more access and a little more opportunity.

And the two things we have been saying here, Jim, is that violence isn't appropriate and people have a right to protest. And so -- and we think that -- I hope Mubarak, President Mubarak, will -- is going to respond to some of the legitimate concerns that are being raised.

JIM LEHRER: You know President Mubarak.

JOE BIDEN: I know him fairly well.

JIM LEHRER: Have you talked to him about this?

JOE BIDEN: I haven't talked to him in the last three days.

I -- last time I -- actually, I haven't talked to him in about a month. But I speak to him fairly regularly. And I think that, you know, there's a lot going on across that part of the continent, from Tunisia into -- all the way to Pakistan, actually. And there's -- a lot of these countries are beginning to sort of take stock of where they are and what they have to do.

JIM LEHRER: Some people are suggesting that we may be seeing the beginning of a kind of domino effect, similar to what happened after the Cold War in Eastern Europe. Poland came first, then Hungary, East Germany.

We have got Tunisia, as you say, maybe Egypt, who knows. Do you smell the same thing coming?

JOE BIDEN: No, I don't.

I wouldn't compare the two. And you and I used to talk years ago about what was going on in Eastern Europe.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

JOE BIDEN: A lot of these nations are very dissimilar. They're similar in the sense that they're Arab nations, dissimilar in the circumstance.

For example, Tunisia has a long history of a more progressive middle class, a different set of circumstances, a different relationship with Europe, for example. And the difference between Tunisia and Egypt is real, beyond the fact that Egypt's the largest Arab country in the world.

So, I don't see any direct relationship, other than there seems -- it might be argued that what is happening in one country sparks whatever concern there is in another country. It may not be the same concern. It may not be even similar, but the idea of speaking out in societies where, in the recent past, there hadn't been much of that occurring.

But I don't -- I think it's a stretch at this point. But I could be proven wrong. But I think it's a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe.

JIM LEHRER: The word -- the word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt and also in Tunisia before was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?

JOE BIDEN: Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.

And I think that it would be -- I would not refer to him as a dictator.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, should we be -- should the United States be encouraging these protesters, whether they're in Tunisia or Egypt or wherever? They want their rights. And should we encourage them to seek them, if it means going to the streets or whatever?

JOE BIDEN: I think we should encourage both those who are, to use your phrase, seeking the rights and the government to talk, to actually sit down and talk with one another, to try to resolve some of what are the -- the interests that are being pursued by those who are protesting.

Now, so far, there seems to be some differences. And, historically, in the past, the concern was in some of these countries that some of the more radical elements of the society, more radicalized were the ones in the streets.

Some could argue, might argue that what's going on in Lebanon was different than what's going on in Egypt, in terms of who is the -- who the protesting forces are. Hezbollah is not, doesn't seem to be what is the nature of the protest that's going on in Egypt right now.

But -- so, not every one of these circumstances is the same, which was my point before.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

JOE BIDEN: We're encouraging the protesters to, as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we're encouraging the government to act responsibly and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out.

JIM LEHRER: Does the U.S. have any role to play in this?

JOE BIDEN: I think the role we have to play is continuing to make it clear to us that we think violence is inappropriate on the part of either party -- either of the parties, the government or the protesters.

JIM LEHRER: But there was something said today. I think the president said or the president's spokesman said the United States is not going to take sides in this dispute in Egypt.

Is that correct? Is that a correct...

JOE BIDEN: Well, look, I don't -- I wouldn't characterize it as taking sides.

I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable accommodation -- accommodation and discussion, to try to resolve peacefully and amicable the concerns and claims made by those who've taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to, because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt.

So, it's very much, I would argue, in the government's interest. But it's also in the interest of those who are seeking those rights. Again, that's different than some protests that occur in that region of the world that are really designed to overthrow a government for the purpose of establishing an autocracy that is more regressive than anything that exists.

@PJCrowley:

#Egypt must handle protests peacefully and create greater political, social and economic opportunity consistent with people's aspirations.

#SecClinton spoke this afternoon with FM Aboul Gheit of #Egypt. She encouraged restraint and dialogue, and offered U.S. support for reforms.

We are closely monitoring the situation in #Egypt. We continue to urge authorities to show restraint and allow peaceful protests to occur.

We are concerned that communication services, including the Internet, social media and even this #tweet, are being blocked in #Egypt.

Passport

Biden on Mubarak: 'I would not refer to him as a dictator.'

Whose bright idea was it to send Joe Biden out to talk about Egypt?

The U.S. vice president just made a major faux pas tonight, the Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy reports:

Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that -- to be more responsive to some… of the needs of the people out there."

Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: "Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with -- with Israel.… I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

He also appeared to make one of the famous Biden gaffes, in comments that could be interpreted as questioning the legitimacy of protesters' demands. Monitor Cairo correspondent Kristen Chick, other reporters in the country, and activists have generally characterized the main calls of demonstrators as focused on freedom, democracy, an end to police torture, and a more committed government effort to address the poverty that aflicts millions of Egyptians.

Biden urged non-violence from both protesters and the government and said: "We're encouraging the protesters to -- as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we're encouraging the government to act responsibly and -- and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out." He also said: "I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable … accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt."

Egypt's protesters, if they're paying attention to Biden at all, will certainly be wondering which of their demands thus far have been illegitimate.

Earlier today, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs turned some heads when he said of the protests, "This is not about taking sides." But if you look at the full context of his remarks, it's clear the Obama administration is still counting on the Mubarak regime toughening this one out.

This evening, about 10 minutes after the Associated Press posted a video appearing to show a man being shot in the head (unconfirmed reports on Twitter later said he had died), Egyptians began reporting that their Internet access had been cut off, and an Italian company that provides a major backbone confirmed that its ties to Egypt had been severed. Other reports warned that Egyptian mobile companies were cutting off text-messaging services.

Tomorrow, the protesters have called for massive demonstrations after Friday prayers, and many are worried that the Egyptian regime will use the opportunity to launch a major crackdown. Arabist.net reports that plainclothes security goons have been seen "pouring gasoline on vehicles and setting them on fire" and that policemen were "loading vans with clubs, nails, metal bars and other objects."

Egypt has yet to pass the point of no return, but if tomorrow gets even uglier, I hope the Obama administration gets its story straight.

UPDATE: Click here for a full rundown of Obama administration statements on Egypt.