Reports: White House Urged Mubarak Not To Run Again

President Obama reportedly sent word Tuesday to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he should not seek re-election. This is a more aggressive step from the White House than we have seen. For more, NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks to host Michele Norris.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Michele?

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The White House message on Egypt appears to have shifted throughout the day, too. There are reports that the White House sent a personal message to Mr. Mubarak urging him not to seek reelection. And NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro is here with us now to discuss this. And as we just heard from Lulu, Frank Wisner, someone who's a veteran diplomat who has long and deep ties with Mubarak and with Israel was sent to deliver this message. What more do we know about what he said?

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, Mr. Wisner is sort of the White House's point person on this issue right now. And as you mentioned, it helps that he has a personal relationship with Hosni Mubarak going far far back. And so as one official described it, it was a two-way conversation. And Mr. Wisner message for Mr. Mubarak was the time has come. You can't stay in office.

It was not clear to this person whether Mubarak was going to step down immediately or just not run for reelection as Mubarak just announced he had chosen not to do. But he urged him to publicly tell the protestors that he was not going to remain in office indefinitely.

NORRIS: Help us put this in context. How has this differed from the White House position leading up to this now that we're at day 8 of these protests?

SHAPIRO: President Obama had been walking a tightrope this whole time. On the one hand, he has been consistently speaking out in favor of free speech and expression. On the other hand, he did want to be seen as taking sides for or against Mubarak. This was the farthest that President Obama went. This was in comments that he made at the White House last Friday.

President BARACK OBAMA: What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people. A meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens. And a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people.

SHAPIRO: And as you know, Michele, a lot has changed in the days since the president said that on Friday. The protests have not gone away. And both the White House and Mubarak himself have apparently concluded that he simply cannot remain in power. And after 30 years as the head of Egypt, there's no turning back.

NORRIS: Ari, what does all this mean for the White House to withdraw support for Mubarak. And what about the billions in dollars in aid that the U.S. provides to this country?

SHAPIRO: It's not clear what's going to happen to the aid and it's not clear what's going to happen to the U.S. relationship with Egypt. That may depend in large part on how this all plays out and who replaces Mr. Mubarak, which was one of the big concerns of the White House. Is that while they support free expression, freedom - human rights - what President Obama has called universal values, they are afraid of who might take Mubarak's place.

Egypt has been one of the United States' closest Mid-East allies in the Arab world. And, you know, former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed Elbaradei seems to be the closest thing to a successor. But there is still a whole lot of uncertainty.

NORRIS: Let us remember when we talk about international values. That the president had actually traveled to Cairo to deliver a very important speech there. How closely has he been involved in this in monitoring the events and working out this message?

SHAPIRO: Very closely. What we know specifically today is that a large part of his cabinet meeting this morning was devoted specifically to this issue where Secretary Clinton talked about what the White House called: supporting an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

At 3:30 this afternoon, the White House national security team briefed President Obama on the latest developments. There may yet be more as this day unfolds. But as you mentioned, Michele, the Mid-East, the issue of freedom and Cairo specifically has been such a touchstone of this White House and this presidency that it's not just an issue of President Obama wanting to look as though he engaged, which, you know, politically, of course, he needs to look as though he's engaged. This is an issue on which he is very engaged and on which, you know, by all indications he is very involved in and has a stake in.

NORRIS: I got to let you go. But will we hear from him today?

SHAPIRO: We don't know yet. There has been some talk of potentially, but nothing official from the White House.

NORRIS: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro.

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