Obama Speaks To Egyptian President

President Obama spoke with the Egyptian president for about 30 minutes on Tuesday night, then spoke about the developing situation in Egypt later in the evening. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us from the White House.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Earlier this evening, President Obama spoke briefly from the White House on today's momentous events in Egypt. He said that he had spoken to the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, tonight, and he expressed hope that the transition to a new government in that country will be peaceful and will begin now.

Joining us from the White House is NPR's Scott Horsley.

And, Scott, President Obama made clear that he had seen - that he had been in touch with the embattled Egyptian leader, but he kept some distance between himself and Mubarak's decision to retire later this year.

SCOTT HORSLEY: He did, Robert. He said it's clear, though, that the status quo in Egypt is not sustainable. He talked about the demonstrations that we've all been watching in recent days. He said we've been witnessing a new chapter in the long history of Egypt, and he made it clear it's time to turn the page.

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: And, Scott, in his speech, he really didn't address reports we've seen and heard today about back-channel contacts the administration made with Mubarak over the past few days?

HORSLEY: The White House doesn't want to seem to be too forcefully dictating events in Egypt, but we have learned from a State Department official that that diplomat, Frank Wisner, was sent to carry a message to Mubarak that it's time, that the protests were not going away. If anything, they were gaining steam, and that his three-decade long tenure as the leader of Egypt was coming to a close.

SIEGEL: At the same time, President Obama, in his statement from the White House, was not associating himself or the administration with the idea of Hosni Mubarak sticking around for another seven months. And that idea clearly doesn't please many of the protesters in Egypt?

HORSLEY: No. It may not be satisfactory at all, and while the president said that the transition to a new government should begin now, he didn't really talk about a timetable or just how that should play out. He did acknowledge tonight that there will be difficult days ahead in Egypt. At the same time, he said he's confident that the people of Egypt will find those answers.

Pres. OBAMA: The people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt - I want to be clear - we hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny.

SIEGEL: And, Scott, were there other messages in these brief remarks from the president on the events in Egypt that stood out for you?

HORSLEY: Well, Robert, the president, again, urged all parties to be nonviolent. And he talked about the pictures we've all seen of tanks draped in protest banners, the demonstrators and the soldiers embracing the streets. He talked about the Egyptian people, who work to protect the antiquities in their museum. He called it a human line stretching all the way back to this ancient civilization, and a civilization he said that's now about to witness a new day.

SIEGEL: Okay. NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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