Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–January 28, 2011 – 3:10 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. I apologize for the delay. Obviously we are watching and monitoring very closely a very fluid and dynamic situation, so I will do my best to answer some of your immediate questions. We may take some of those, again, as events, as we can all see, are changing very quickly.
So with that, Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. Has President Obama spoken to President Mubarak about these issues?
MR. GIBBS: Let me start by giving you a little bit of a rundown in the President’s briefings thus far today. Overnight he received a memo from the National Security Advisor on the latest situation. I think you all have been briefed on the fact that the President’s PDB was about 40 minutes in the Oval Office this morning entirely on the situation in Egypt. We convened not too long ago, about 12:30 p.m., a deputies committee meeting in the Situation Room run by Denis McDonough where we heard directly from Ambassador Margaret Scobey from Egypt and the State Department and others. Those — that briefing was relayed back to the President not too long ago in the Oval Office.
So we have — throughout the process our ambassador and others in the government have been in touch with the Egyptian government. President Obama has not spoken with President Mubarak.
Q Does he have plans to and does he stand by him?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we are — again, we’re monitoring a very fluid situation. I would point you to what I think we’ve said over the course of this, Ben, and that is this is not about picking a person or picking the people of a country. And as you heard Secretary of State Clinton say today, we are deeply concerned about the images and the events that we see in Egypt today. We monitor those events closely.
The security personnel in Egypt need to refrain from violence. Protesters should refrain from violence, as well. We’ve said that throughout this. We think the government, as many of us have said throughout the day, need to turn the Internet and social networking sites back on.
The legitimate grievances that have festered for quite some time in Egypt have to be addressed by the Egyptian government immediately, and violence is not the response. A space has to be created for a meaningful dialogue that addresses, again, those very legitimate grievances. Our belief in their right on the freedom of expression, of association and of assembly — we have, and I outlined some yesterday, some very specific things that the government must begin to do immediately.
Q Two other quick ones, please?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q You say these legitimate grievances have to be addressed. I’m wondering: Or what? What can the President do if these matters are not —
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, first and foremost, this is a situation that will be solved by the people in Egypt. I will say this, that we — sorry — we are monitoring closely the situation, as I’ve said. We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events that take place in the coming days. So that’s certainly part of it. But this is — this will be solved by the Egyptian people. But it is important — and there’s a very important opportunity for the Egyptian government to address, again, grievances that have been in place for a number of years.
Q And, lastly, from the White House perspective, can you put what’s happening today and the last couple of days into context? Do you see this as a crisis that is teetering on something potentially much broader spreading across the Middle East?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously we’re monitoring this in a number of places. We’ve seen — we saw what happened in Tunisia. Again, as I said yesterday, I think you have different countries in the region at different stages of political development. And I don’t want to generalize across a series of countries.
Q What does the United States think of the Egyptian military sending tanks into the streets? And what do you think the military’s role should be appropriately?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that, as we have urged repeatedly for many days, we urge a strong restraint. This is not a situation that should be addressed with violence. Security forces and the military should be restrained in anything that they do.
Q There’s been reports of clashes between the Egyptian military and the Egyptian police. Have you heard anything about that?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get into — obviously, we’re monitoring this situation. So I don’t have a count of everything that’s happening on the ground.
Q What’s the United States doing about aid and are reviewing —
MR. GIBBS: As I said a minute ago, obviously we will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days.
Q Robert, has the President been having any phone conversations at all with other allies, conferring about the situation in Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously, there have been a number of meetings throughout the government. There’s another higher level principals meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning. But I am unaware of any calls at this point that have been made.
Q And I’m wondering why this message that you are delivering from the podium and what we heard from Secretary of State Clinton earlier today, why the President isn’t himself making those same comments on a phone call? I mean, it seems that it would be more powerful if the President can pick up the phone, call President Mubarak and make the same remarks.
MR. GIBBS: Dan, I think it’s important to understand that we have — we are in continual contact with — throughout levels of our government with the Egyptian government.
Q But there’s more weight, though, if the President were to make that call himself.
MR. GIBBS: Well, and I think you heard the President speak quite clearly yesterday on this topic. And I think what’s also very important is we have not waited for the events of the past several days to bring up our concerns and the concerns of the Egyptian people about what I said: association, assembly, freedom of expression, freedom — Internet freedoms. Those are discussions that are had at every opportunity when anybody from our government meets with the Egyptian government. When the President last spoke with President Mubarak, he brought these concerns up. When we spoke in Cairo, these concerns were brought up.
So I would say only in terms of going forward, we continue to monitor a fast-paced situation.
Q And finally, what — can you kind of talk to us a bit about the role that Egypt has played in that region? And any concerns at all that this situation, this crisis, could hurt the relationship?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think obvious — you know, we have seen the role that, on issues like Middle East peace, that, either in current negotiations or historically, the government of Egypt has played, and that’s important.
But there is a responsibility that is had by the government of Egypt regardless of the role that they have played internationally or regionally over the course of any number of years. They also have to address the grievances that have built up for those same number of years within the country of Egypt.
This is an important opportunity to institute concrete and legitimate political reforms, to address the deep concerns of the Egyptian people and make some substantive progress. And that’s what we’re looking for.
Q Robert, why does the U.S. still support countries and regimes that we know do not respect human rights, like Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we have documented, again, the concerns that some have had for quite some time. As is the case with a country like China, we have a whole host of bilateral issues that we deal with countries on, as we did in the recent trip. There were economic, security and basic human rights issues that we discuss when the President meets with his counterparts.
Our belief is it is important to have those conversations very directly with those leaders. If you walk away from the table of engagement, you can’t deliver that message in a face-to-face manner. And the President believes obviously that’s tremendously important.
Q You talk about urging restraint. Has that message been communicated from the United States directly to the Egyptian military to refrain from violence, or is just from the podium?
MR. GIBBS: No, it has been communicated not just from this podium, not just in the remarks of the Secretary of State, but at levels within the Pentagon to the Egyptian military from the Egyptian military, from the State Department, from the words and conversations that have been had by Ambassador Scobey — all levels — and also the words, most importantly, of the President yesterday.
Q One last question. Do you believe that the time has passed now for Mubarak to make these changes, these political changes that you’re calling for?
MR. GIBBS: I — absolutely not. I think the people of Egypt want to see, clearly and quickly, legitimate steps taken toward concrete reforms. The time for that to happen has most certainly come.
Q But Robert, you said that he has not talked to President Mubarak. Has he tried to reach him?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Has there been discussion of trying to reach him?
MR. GIBBS: Again, there’s a very fluid situation, and I have no doubt that there are conversations happening as I brief about Egypt on a whole host of levels and issues inside the building.
Q Why is the President not standing where you’re standing right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’re monitoring a very fluid situation, Chip.
Q He talked about it yesterday, but since he talked about it, the situation on the ground has changed pretty dramatically.
MR. GIBBS: And I don’t doubt by the time I finish here it will have changed more, and may several times before we all go to bed tonight.
Q Has there been any discussion of concerns expressed by people overseas if they don’t hear directly from the President talking into the camera himself?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, because, again, I think you have seen a very clear and consistent message across all levels of our government in our interactions with the government in Egypt and in Cairo, the statements that I’ve made publicly in here and the messages that have been communicated most recently by Secretary of State Clinton just a few hours earlier.
Q And I believe earlier you said, “We’ll be reviewing our assistance posture depending on the events of the next several days.” Could you elaborate on that? Has that been discussed in the meetings with the President?
MR. GIBBS: It has. It has.
Q And what kind of change in posture could there be? Are you talking about cutting off aid?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think at this point I would just leave it to the fact that there — we are watching very closely the images and events that you’re watching and how that could very possibly impact our assistance to Egypt.
Q And is that part of a bigger — is there planning going on now for the possibility that he would be overthrown?
MR. GIBBS: There’s a robust set of meetings that are being had to discuss a whole host of issues right now in Egypt.
Q Plans for any contingency like that?
MR. GIBBS: A whole host of meetings that are going on.
Q “Deeply concerned”, “urging restraint” — to this point, from my knowledge, no U.S. official has come out and condemned the violence. Is it time to condemn the violence?
MR. GIBBS: Let’s be clear, Mike. Urging restraint and then seeing violence is obviously very counter to what we believe should be had. And we would strongly condemn the use of any violence on either side during this situation, absolutely.
Q It seemed that you were delayed today because we were waiting to see if Mubarak would have anything to say to his people and perhaps a global audience. Is the White House troubled that he has not come out, to our knowledge, to say something?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we were delayed for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which I wanted to make sure that we have the very best available information as we come out here. We are monitoring any and all actions and words that are coming out of the country, and we’ll continue to do so.
Q Isn’t this kind of a classic foreign policy dilemma for the U.S., where he may not be great to his own people but you have to be worried about who might replace him?
MR. GIBBS: Mike, I don’t think it’s a — I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to get into hypotheticals. I will say this, and it’s certainly not hypothetical, and that is that the situation should be addressed through concrete reforms. That’s what the people of Egypt demand. That’s what they deserve. Leaders of any country and any region of the world have to be responsive and responsible to the people they govern. That’s certainly true in this instance. And it’s true in each and every country around the globe.
Q Robert, has the Vice President or Secretary Clinton spoken to President Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t have an updated list of calls. The Vice President has not. I would refer you to State on — if anything has happened. Again, things are moving quite quickly.
Q Can you share with us what world leaders the President has spoken with in the last 24 hours on this situation?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I do not believe that he has spoken —
Q Anybody from Saudi Arabia, the king of Jordan —
MR. GIBBS: Not that I — the President has not. Again, we are in touch at a whole host of levels. Again, I’d refer you to State on some of this, on what contacts have been had. Obviously we’re watching this.
Q Has he spoken to Prime Minister Cameron?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Has any thought been given to pulling our ambassador temporarily?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’ve heard. Obviously, Chuck, we spent some time in the meeting at 12:30 p.m. discussing the security of the embassy, the security of American citizens inside of Egypt. There are no reports at this point of Americans in distress, but obviously this is an ongoing situation that we monitor. The State Department —
Q So we’re prepared if we need to evacuate —
MR. GIBBS: The contingencies have been discussed. And obviously there are preplanning for a lot of that — is in the pipeline for a whole host of contingencies.
I will say, obviously, that the State Department has issued a travel alert to any United States citizen considering travel to Egypt and urging people not to pursue non-essential travel to the country.
Q Has the United States, through the ambassador or somebody, officially condemned the house arrest of ElBaradei?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously — I don’t — I did not hear the ambassador discuss it directly. Obviously, again, this goes into — directly into our concern about expression, association and assembly.
Q If he is under house arrest, do you guys condemn —
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this, that this is an individual who is a Nobel Laureate, who the President has — knows and has worked with on a host of nuclear security issues, as the former — as the once head of the IAEA. And these are the type of activities that the government has a responsibility to change.
Q And finally, it sounds like we could still hear from the President sometime today?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, Chuck, the situation — as the situation changes, all of that will be evaluated.
Q You just said that if Mohamed ElBaradei is indeed arrested, that would feed into your concerns. You’ve spoken of concerns a lot. Why aren’t you using the term outrage for some of the things that we’ve seen? And is there a sense of making an equivocal statement when you talk about violence on one side versus violence on the other? Is it really comparable at this stage?
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, this is not a solution that will be solved on either side with violence. I’ll be honest with you, Jonathan, I’ve been out here for three days discussing this issue. I have not equivocated on the seriousness of the situation. We have not equivocated on our very public posture that, as I said a minute ago, violence is not going to solve this.
What will solve the grievances of those that are protesting in Egypt is the government addressing those concerns. Free and fair elections is something we outlined yesterday. We condemned the continuation of emergency law earlier this — last year, when it was extended. It’s been in place for three decades. That should come to an end.
But there’s no situation that — this is certainly not a situation that will be solved by violence. In fact, the government’s response cannot be violence. The government’s response has to be to hear, to understand and to act on the concerns of its people.
Q One more. Apparently Vodafone — it’s a British company — is the company that turned off Internet access for the people of Egypt. Is there any way or any thought to pressuring Vodafone to put that network back on?
MR. GIBBS: Let me take the specific company question and make sure that I’m clear on whatever role any company is playing.
Obviously, without getting into the individual company, which I’ll check on with NSC, we have a — it is our strong belief that inside of the framework of basic individual rights are the rights of those to have access to the Internet and to sites for open communication and social networking.
Q Robert, beyond what you’ve said today about aid, how has it been conveyed to the Egyptian authorities that billions of dollars in U.S. help could be in jeopardy if they don’t change their ways?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Peter, I don’t know every conversation that’s been had at every level in this government, but suffice to say this is something that has been discussed and we’re monitoring.
Q And do you see any evidence at all that anything that you’ve said, the President has said, Secretary Clinton has said, has changed the equation on either side, the government or the protesters?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t — I’d have to ask for an evaluation of some of that from — in terms of measuring some actions based on media. I do know that the people of the country are watching what is said here. I know that, again, we see some limited amount of information that comes out, and social networking sites before they were shut down, that they’re very attuned to our words about their individual rights.
Q On the communications question — I know you had that deputies meeting earlier with the ambassador — are you guys having a hard time understanding and figuring out everything that’s going on in the ground in Cairo and elsewhere, or are you pretty clear on what’s happening?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we got a very thorough rundown from the ambassador who’s at the embassy right now.
Q But you’re not — none of these shutdowns, in terms of the Internet, it’s not affecting your ability to gather information?
MR. GIBBS: No, we have a host of ways to gather information.
Q And then just to follow real quick on the aid that you’re saying you’re reviewing, you’re confident that prior to you announcing it here, the Egyptians are aware that their aid is under review?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I want to be careful, Hans, that — I don’t know every conversation that’s been had. But suffice to say, I think I was rather clear in what I said.
Q Suffice it to say? Could we call it a warning?
MR. GIBBS: No, it’s — again, I think we’ve been very clear about what needs to happen. Violence in any form should stop immediately, and grievances should be addressed. We will monitor what is and what has happened and future events as we undertake a review of our assistance posture.
Q That sounds to me like a warning. If they don’t improve their behavior their assistance will be terminated.
MR. GIBBS: I think that if — I think we are watching very closely the actions of the government, of the police, of all the security forces, and all of those in the military. That their actions may affect our assistance would be the subject of that review.
Go ahead — I’m sorry, Jackie, do you have something?
Q Yes. I wondered if you could give us any new information you have about the composition of the protesters. You know, how much of it is and what proportion of it is Muslim Brotherhood or —
MR. GIBBS: Let me see if I can get some guidance on that. Obviously, we have — look, I think you have seen over the past several days the manifestation of these grievances express themselves in protests by I think what you would consider to be the Egyptian middle class in the very base concerns that they have about their political reform needs.
But I don’t have any update on that. I can check and see if there is anything else.
Q May I have a change of address, change of subject?
Q No, stay on this.
MR. GIBBS: My guess is that this is the predominant subject, but let me — I’ll come back at the end of this and see if — yes, ma’am.
Q Is there any thought that what went on in Tunisia had some impact on this in terms of timing? And do you fear that any sparks from the violence in Egypt might affect any other Arab countries?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I’ve said in the past couple of days, I don’t want to generalize across the region. Countries are, obviously, as I’ve said, at different stages in development politically. But I think it is safe to say that we are monitoring events throughout the world.
Q Thank you, Robert. Could you talk a bit about the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in this? And should the Muslim Brotherhood be treated as a political party with privileges appertaining to —
MR. GIBBS: I do not think this is a — I do not think that the grievances of the people of Egypt are of a monolithic political belief. I think that it is well documented, and we have documented it, the grievances of those who feel they lack the basic individual rights that we’ve — that we enjoy and that we have enumerated over the past several days. Obviously, this is — we are not in touch with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Q Are you at all concerned about the increased role that the Muslim Brotherhood might play in Egypt’s political situation as a result?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t think it is — I don’t think it’s a — I’m not going to get into forecasting in a very fluid and dynamic situation what may happen. Again, I’d refer you to what I said to Peter in that I think that it would be a — based on what we know, a misinterpretation to believe that the events that we have seen are based on the beliefs of one — just one set of people.
Q Thanks. To clarify on the ongoing aid question that keeps popping up, most of the aid to Egypt is military aid, right? So when we’re talking about aid being reviewed, we’re talking about us reviewing our military aid assistance to them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I want to be clear that the review would be — we’d review all of our aid to Egypt. And I think with — I would say, within that review is military.
Q Okay. And is that review currently ongoing, or are you sort of waiting until things chill a little bit to figure that out?
MR. GIBBS: Let’s just say it’s been discussed and we are monitoring events that could affect that aid.
Q Two other quick follow-ups. Does this affect our physical military posture in the region in any way that you could share with us today?
MR. GIBBS: In what way?
Q Whatever — U.S. military positioning. Do we have concerns where we would need to become involved and reposition U.S. forces in any way?
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, we discussed embassy security and we discussed — and I think it’s safe to say that there have always been contingency plans for both embassy security and American citizens that are in both Egypt and in many countries throughout the world.
Q But that’s what we’re talking about — we’re confined to talking about embassies?
MR. GIBBS: That’s all I would talk about publicly, that’s for sure.
Q Can I ask you about China? It seems like a leap, and geographically it is, and culturally it is, but when President Hu was here there was a lot of discussion about human rights and about the need as you become more powerful to consider elements of free society or rule of law. Does the U.S. believe — or do you think that China should be concerned in any way about what’s happening in Egypt? Or do you think it’s — they’re such completely different societies and that this is mostly an Arab-Muslim thing at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Let me make sure I understand. Are you talking about our posture toward China or —
Q No, I’m talking about the notion of citizens around the world in societies with —
MR. GIBBS: Let me —
Q — that don’t feel are open enough deciding to take to the streets?
MR. GIBBS: I think that — again, I think it would be — if I’m not going to generalize across a region, I probably shouldn’t generalize across several regions.
Q I just want to know about one country, not —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand. But to discuss this as it relates to one other country would be to do — would be to dip my toe into the pool of generalization, which I’m certainly not going to do.
I will say this. Again, I think the issues that the President talked with President Hu of China about and the issues with which President Hu told all of you that there was work to be done, that is the case regardless of what happens in any other country in the world. And the President has expressed his concerns about that, and I think you saw those concerns quite honestly expressed by President Hu.
Q Is there any concern that this situation or the free and fair elections you’re calling for could produce a government that’s less favorable to U.S. interests? And is that a price that you are willing to pay for those universal rights to be upheld?
MR. GIBBS: Let me be — I want to reiterate. I don’t want to project into the future. I don’t think that would be a wise use of my time given the fluidity of events. I think this is — the government of Egypt will be — is an issue for the people of Egypt.
Q Looking at the seriousness of the situation, who is the person you are in touch with in Cairo? You say the Presidents have not spoken. In all these answers I couldn’t find with whom are you in touch — except the ambassador — in the Mubarak administration.
MR. GIBBS: We are in touch with — again, I don’t have a list of every conversation that’s been had. We are in touch with the Egyptian government throughout entities in this building and throughout this administration. The Pentagon is obviously in touch with the military. The State Department is in touch with — directly with the government and in touch with the Foreign Ministry. Again, there are conversations that are had in many different buildings and at many different levels.
Q You have repeatedly said that the U.S. is urging for reform in Egypt.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q But concretely what types of reforms are you urging for? And also, is this realistic, I mean, given that the same regime has been in power there for 30 years?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me — I outlined a couple of things yesterday and repeated them today the types of things that we certainly would envision.
I think — and I repeat those — obviously, I mentioned free and fair elections, I mentioned our condemnation of the extension of emergency law, and that that should be ended. But the grievances of the people have to be addressed directly by the government, and I think there has to be a significant and thorough dialogue to address, again, a whole host of individual rights that the people rightly believe are lacking.
So I think there has to be a concrete process that involves — and I think it’s not — would not be something that would be only enumerated from our perspective. It has to be enumerated and addressed directly from the perspective of those in Egypt.
Q At the moment, this is the story — the whole world is watching — in a similar way like a few years ago, the whole world was watching Georgia or the Ukraine. At the time, it seemed that there was some international approach to it. Now, this is happening already one week, but you can’t tell us that the President or the White House is in contact, let’s say, with the most important three or four western allies to develop a strategy, a common strategy, in how to react to Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, obviously we’re watching a series of events that are rapidly unfolding and changing. I have no doubt that things may well have changed in the time in which I’ve stood up here. Again, we have a very robust — we have very robust diplomatic efforts. And we have contacts and conversations, as I said earlier, in many buildings in this administration, with entities throughout the world. The President has not made specific calls on this at this point. But we continue to monitor the situation.
Q Do you need a common strategy of the West — I mean, the —
MR. GIBBS: We need a strategy by the Egyptian government to address the grievances of the Egyptian people. I think the world — and I think several leaders have expressed the same — the very same concerns about violence that the President, the Secretary of State, and others have addressed, the Vice President. I think that the basic and universal rights that have to be reformed — I think there’s a pretty common response and reaction to the images that we’re seeing now.
Q Thank you, Robert. Much of the demonstration in the last few days seems to focus on President Mubarak’s apparent attempt to have his son, Gamal Mubarak, succeed him in the elections this year, one way or another. Now, you said the President has talked about basic human rights and non-violence in past conversations with President Mubarak. Has he ever discussed what many feel is a dynastic succession bid?
MR. GIBBS: Let me — I don’t have a direct answer to that. And let me see if there’s some guidance on it.
Q And are you following the reports about the whereabouts of Gamal Mubarak at all?
MR. GIBBS: We’re monitoring the events of the entire situation.
Q Thank you, Robert. During the meetings today, was the scenario or the possibility of Mubarak being toppled ever discussed or entertained?
MR. GIBBS: Not in meetings that I was in. Again, I think it is safe to say, without getting into a level of detail or granularity, that we are watching a situation that obviously changes day to day. And we’ll continue to watch and make preparations for a whole host of scenarios.
Q Robert, for a long time Egypt has been a partner in Middle East peace efforts. I know you said the President has not spoken with other world leaders, but on what level is the administration communicating with Israel and how might all this affect the Middle East peace agreement?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not aware of every conversation that’s happened. But I think it is safe to say that our — both inside of here and at the State Department, they have talked throughout the region.
Q Can I ask one on another topic?
MR. GIBBS: Let’s exhaust this before we — yes, sir.
Q Thank you. Is the U.S. — or excuse me, is Egypt in danger of losing its U.S. financial assistance? Is that — are they in jeopardy of losing that?
MR. GIBBS: I think that — I think the review is based upon their actions. The people — let’s be clear, the people of Egypt are watching the government’s actions. They have for quite some time, and their grievances have reached a boiling point. And they have to be addressed.
We will watch the actions of government. I’ll reiterate the urging of restraint for the security forces and for the military. All of that will go into that review.
Q When will there be a decision? Is there a point when you have to make a decision about —
MR. GIBBS: Again, it’s an ongoing review, so I don’t have an end date.
Q I didn’t quite understand your answer about Vodafone.
MR. GIBBS: My answer was I was going to take that question and see if there was any other specific information — I don’t have any information on that, and I will try to gather it.
Q Because, I mean, they’re a company in the U.K. —
MR. GIBBS: That part I did know. (Laughter.) It was —
Q Could you not urge them to switch service back on?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I think — again, I’ve been very clear — we have been very clear. The President was clear on this yesterday. The Secretary of State was clear on this today. P.J. and I have both spoken on this.
We believe in the basket of individual freedoms includes the freedom to access the Internet and the freedom to use social networking sites. I don’t want to speak about the specific company because I need a little bit more information. Regardless of any situation, we believe that the people of Egypt have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and that includes the use of the Internet.
Q I think what the concern is that what’s coming across is that you’re tempering your concern with —
MR. GIBBS: I’ll just be clear — can I be clear?
MR. GIBBS: Is there anything that I could say that would be more clear than that the people of Egypt have — should and have full access to social networking sites and the Internet; that the people of Egypt should have their concerns about freedom of expression, assembly and association addressed directly by their government?
I’m not tempering one word or one syllable of one word in what has to be done by the people — by the government of Egypt to address the concerns of the people of Egypt.
Q Even if that means that the government were to fall?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think I could be clearer. I don’t think the people of Egypt could be clearer. We’ve reached a point where the grievances of those have to be addressed in concrete reforms. Have to. Must. Unequivocal.
Q Robert, you said that the administration is reviewing the assistance posture. On what criteria is that review being hinged? What are the criteria?
MR. GIBBS: The events that we’re watching.
Q Robert — you’ve spoken several times —
MR. GIBBS: Oh, go ahead, I’m sorry, did you have one?
Q Yes. And there has not been direct contact between the two heads of state. Is that because Mubarak is unwilling or unavailable for that contact?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Robert, you’ve spoken several times about how you’re watching the events that are fluid. Is there any interest of the President to intervene and use his influence to change the course of those events to quell the violence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he — I think that was apparent in what he said yesterday. I mean, he was clear on what the government shouldn’t do and he was clear on what the government needed to do. I think the Secretary of State has been clear on that. I think the Vice President has been clear on that.
Did you have a follow-up on something — let’s do a couple more, and then I’ll —
Q Two questions, Robert. Thanks. The one is in connection with Egypt. Ever since the presidential visit to India in November, if President has spoken with the Prime Minister of India, as India just celebrated the Republic Day of India? Indian Prime Minister is also worried about the events in Egypt because of the good relations with India and also the hundreds of thousands of Indians there.
MR. GIBBS: The President, to my knowledge, has not spoken with Prime Minister Singh.
Q And second, as far as presidential address to the union the other day, it came to surprise around the globe, the people were surprised when the President said that China is now head of super-computer once the U.S. lost the leader, and also in solar power. What people are asking now if China has compromised the U.S. security as far as leading in super-computers and all —
MR. GIBBS: Let’s be clear. I think — let’s be clear. We, as the President said in his speech, need to take important steps to win the future. We need to out-innovate and out-build and out-educate any of our competitors.
I don’t think people should be confused about the size of our economy and the size of their economy. Our economy is three times the size of the Chinese economy, with a quarter of its people.
Again, we need to take steps, because as you’ve heard the President say a number of times, people in one state in this country aren’t competing against people the next town over or two states away. It’s a global economy and we have global challenges, and I think the President addressed and outlined many of them, and over the course of the coming weeks and months we’ll outline specific plans to address them.
Sam, and then George.
Q Yes, I just want to — could you just talk real quick about Jay, what he brings to the position, what differences we’ll see? And what sort of — I guess if there’s a message that comes with —
MR. GIBBS: You know, let me just — I’ll do this quickly, because I — get back to the situation in Egypt. Look, I think, as I’ve said, I think Jay is tremendously smart. I think Jay is extraordinarily hard-working. He has done a terrific job for the Vice President. I think you need two things to do this job well. I think you need to have the confidence of the President and the team in the White House, and you need to have the access, which gives you the ability to do the job and answer questions. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Jay has each of those abilities, and I think will be terrific at what he does.
Q Actually, that was what I was going to ask. But let me — two follow-ups — are you any closer, now that the announcements have been made, on saying when you’ll hand over the duties to him?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I anticipate transitioning out of here sometime in mid-February.
Q And, secondly, can you explain the President’s thinking at all, beyond the two things you just named, in being the first President to name a — since Gerald Ford to name a reporter to the job? Does he have — some skill in there he thinks is transferable?
MR. GIBBS: A thousand jokes just flashed in my head, George.
MR. GIBBS: I think the — I think given the nature of this briefing, I should probably holster each of those thousand jokes and we’ll discuss this later.
Q Robert, can we get another gaggle on this?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me do this —
Q Because there’s a lot of questions, and I understand —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me do this — I think that’s a very important point. Let us go back now and see sort of where we are. And we will keep in touch with you. If you have questions, send them our way. Obviously, this is Ben’s last day, and we’ve made it a particularly busy one. He will go back over to the State Department, don’t worry.
So obviously, Ben, Denis, Tom, Ben Chang, Tommy Vietor, myself — we will endeavor to let you know as much as we know throughout this process. Let me go back and look at our scheduling as to when we might want to try to do this a little bit later today.
Mike, did you have something before I go?
Q Does the U.S. know for sure where President Mubarak is? I mean, do you think he is in Cairo?
MR. GIBBS: I have no information that he is not. Thanks.
3:59 P.M. EST