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Special Report

Obama Ambiguous on Egypt's Future

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 1, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama at the White House commenting on the situation in Egypt after a 30 minute phone call with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The president is saying that he told Mubarak that the U.S. does not have a specific horse in the race, for a better term. He didn't say those words. That's my words.

But the president said the U.S. wants to see a, quote, "orderly transition that must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now leading up to elections in Egypt."

We're back with the panel. Charles, thought on the statement and what it mean in the big picture?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There was a lot of studied ambiguity in that, all kinds of phrases which can be interpreted in a lot of ways, "orderly transition," "it must begin now." He didn't say anything about the fate of Mubarak -- should he leave now or not? He didn't suggest that he is in favor of it.

I think what's important here, I think what he tried to do is to basically express solidarity with the Egyptians in the street thinking that in the absence of that it would alienate the Egyptians and the demonstrators. At least you want to make a statement of support. That is important.

But there was nothing specific here. All the real stuff is happening behind the scenes with the visit of the Frank Wisner, the former ambassador who obviously is advising the Egyptians or giving them our input. And I suspect what is happening is they are thinking about whether or not they ought to bring in the opposition now or leave the army and Mubarak in charge and bring them in later.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yeah, I think all of those things that Charles just said weren't in here, all those specifics, they shouldn't be in here, and you don't want to put them in here. I think the president said it's not the role of any other country to determine Egypt's leaders. That's up to them.

But I do think when he said the transition, it has to be orderly, peaceful, and meaningful, meaningful means that the changes that need to be made now in advance of elections, like changing the constitution in whatever way is necessary, have to begin now. And I think that's important. And of course he said elections that are free and fair. And Egypt hasn't had free and fair elections probably in 30 years.

So I think he laid down some important markers, he talked about universal rights, no violence, the need for change. And I think he ended with a pretty Obama-esque image of a new generation, young people linking arms to protect this Museum of Antiquities. And so far, this has been a disciplined and well-behaved popular uprising, the kind that does make people feel good and proud around the world. However, they have a long way to go.

BAIER: You know, the president said, Steve, that the U.S. is not advocating for specific outcome, something Secretary Clinton said as well yet sends this former Ambassador Frank Wisner to Cairo with a specific message, Mubarak you should not run again. You should step down after the September elections.

Mubarak today says, now whether you believe him or not, that he was going to step down anyway in September. What about this not advocating for specific outcome and the speech just made?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well the thinking was that Mubarak would have his son Gamal run potentially in the fall. So he may have, in fact, been telling the truth there. Look, I actually don't have a problem with the president not advocating, not pushing for a specific outcome, and I think what he said in the remarks tonight was actually wise. I think he was smart not to get more specific, to leave it ambiguous as both Mara and Charles have pointed out. I also thought...

BAIER: My point was that they were advocating for a specific outcome in that Mubarak would be stepping down after the September elections.

LIASSON: Well that they were clear on they just didn't want to say who should be next leader. Yeah, yeah.

HAYES: But they weren't -- this is the point - they weren't clear on that in the beginning. And what's been interesting is to study the contrast. You can look at what was said from the administration Thursday to Friday, totally different. Then yesterday, if you listen to Robert Gibbs' press briefing, he was downplaying the president's involvement, saying he's not gonna change his schedule. He gets his Egypt information in the daily PDB. Nothing really was changing.

BAIER: Presidential Daily Brief --

HAYES: Right, nothing really was changing. This wasn't taking up too much of the president's time. Today it's different. You've got the president speaking, you've got the Cabinet meeting, you've got all of this happening. Now there were changes on the grounds that I think that that's reflecting. But I thought that the most important part of President Obama's remarks, in my view, was in the end, where he gave rhetorical support to the people on the streets. They have said repeatedly we don't feel that the United States is behind us we don't think that you're on our side. I think what he said there, and I wish you would have said it earlier that we are on your side. We are on your side.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: You've gotta ask yourself, why did he speak? What exactly did he say? Not much. I mean it's good. He should be ambiguous in public, and specific in private. Which I think is a good policy.

But why does he pop up on television right after the president of Egypt speaks? He did that on Friday. And he does it again today. How does it advance our policy? I think the only reason he did that, as I understand it, is as a way to express the general solidarity for people on the streets.

But I'm not sure he ought to be injecting himself, especially after there's a decision that Mubarak announces, because it looks as if it was our decision, our pressure. And I'm not sure that we want a direct connection between our president and Egypt.

LIASSON: I really disagree with that. I think that if he hadn't said something he would be open to the criticism that he was -- that his earlier ambivalent statements were kinda left standing that he wasn't identifying with the protesters in streets. The problem is--

(CROSSTALK)

KRAUTHAMMER: But I'm not sure why he's injecting himself. I think he did want to show himself in solidarity, yes, and I think that's why he did it. But I'm not sure he ought to dovetail with every time that Mubarak speaks.

LIASSON: I don't think he will. I think he needed to do it to correct that there were a lot of kind of miscues, too much talk that Egypt is stable, Mubarak isn't a dictator. I think they wanted to correct the record and have the president do it live and in person.

HAYES: Now that we know Mubarak is going, that was the one ambiguity that you had to resolve. You couldn't let it be thought that you were eager to have Mubarak around.

KRAUTHAMMER: But the bigger ambiguity is when does he go. Of course he's gonna go. But is he gonna go tonight, tomorrow or next week? Or are we going to push him out? The demonstrators on the street are not gonna leave until he gets out of the country. And that's why I think it's still up in the air, it's still a crisis, nothing is resolved here.

HAYES: But it may be clear to us that Mubarak was going to go. I mean, I think it was clear as of Thursday that Mubarak wasn't gonna stick around. But it wasn't clear from the White House where Robert Gibbs said yesterday we are not picking sides.

KRAUTHAMMER: You think if he ran in September he would be re-elected again? I don't think...

LIASSON: Leaving the country and not running for reelection are two quite different things. We're not talking about him leaving like Idi Amin, you know like with his suitcases.

BAIER: There'll be more to talk about, I promise.

Also about the regional instability, the questions about Jordan and other countries and and what it does to the U.S. economy. Today, stocks were up. The Dow added 148 to close above 12,000 for the first time since June 2008. The S&P 500, as you can see here gained 21.5 the NASDAQ was up 51. Panel, as always, thank you.

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