Obama: Egypt Transition Should Begin Now

President Obama spoke briefly Tuesday from the White House about what his administration wanted to see happen next in Egypt. He stressed that the transition to a new government there should be orderly and peaceful, and that it should begin now. But he did not comment on the role he might have played in urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down. NPR's Scott Horsley speaks to host Robert Siegel from the White House.

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This evening, President Obama stepped up to a microphone in the White House, and he made a brief statement regarding the crisis in Egypt. He said that he had spoken tonight to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and joining us now from the White House is NPR's Scott Horsley.

And, Scott, what did President Obama have to say about the Egyptian leader's decision to retire after this term?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, he didn't say a lot about Mubarak. What he really talked about was the scenes of protests that have captivated the imagination of people here in the U.S. and around the world in recent days. He said all of us in political power serve at the will of the people. That through the years, Egypt has known transformations, and that the voices of those demonstrators tell us this is one of those times.

President BARACK OBAMA: After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable, and that a change must take place.

SIEGEL: Scott, did President Obama indicate the degree to which his own administration may have urged Mubarak to retire over the last day or two with the visit of former Ambassador Wisner yesterday or other contacts?

HORSLEY: No. The White House is not, you know, publicly advertising the pressure that they put on President Mubarak to not seek re-election. Although as you say, they did use back channels - this veteran diplomat who had a personal relationship with the Egyptian leader - to communicate the message that, look, his time is running out.

SIEGEL: Scott, it appears that many - perhaps most - in the vast crowds on the streets of Cairo are not satisfied with the idea of Mubarak leaving in seven months. They want him out today. Did President Obama address that question in his speech?

HORSLEY: Indirectly, he did. He acknowledged that there are going to be, what he said, difficult days ahead, and that there's still a lot of unanswered questions about what lies in store for Egypt. However, he said he's confident that the people of Egypt will find those answers.

SIEGEL: OK. NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House.

Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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