Vice President Biden, issuing the Obama administration's most definitive statement to date on the turmoil in Egypt, said President Hosni Mubarak should not step down and downplayed the protests spreading across the Mideast as generally unconnected.
He described the unrest as an expression of "middle-class folks" looking for "a little more access and a little more opportunity."
Though the administration says it's not taking sides, Biden said in an interview aired Thursday that Mubarak has been a U.S. "ally" on "a number of things," praising him for being "very responsible" in normalizing Egypt's relationship with Israel and aiding in Middle East peace talks.
"I would not refer to him as a dictator," Biden said on PBS' NewsHour.
Protesters challenging Mubarak's 30-year rule clashed on the streets in Cairo with police on Friday. Suggesting Mubarak's regime would weather the storm, Biden nudged the longtime Egyptian president to respond to the protests, peacefully, by being "more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there."
"I hope Mubarak ... is going to respond to some of the legitimate concerns that are being raised," he said.
The protests in Egypt followed an uprising in Tunisia and coincide with similar unrest in Yemen and Jordan, as well as the formation of a new and contested government in Lebanon.
Asked whether the wave of protests resembles in any way the public revolts that surged across Eastern Europe before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Biden said: "I wouldn't compare the two."
He went on to downplay the connection among the protests across the Middle East.
"A lot of these nations are very dissimilar. They're similar in the sense that they're Arab nations, dissimilar in the circumstance," he said. "I don't see any direct relationship, other than there seems -- it might be argued that what is happening in one country sparks whatever concern there is in another country. It may not be the same concern. It may not be even similar, but the idea of speaking out in societies where, in the recent past, there hadn't been much of that occurring. ... I could be proven wrong. But I think it's a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe."
He urged restraint on both sides in Egypt.
"We're encouraging the protesters to, as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we're encouraging the government to act responsibly and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out," he said.
President Obama earlier addressed the Egyptian unrest for the first time in an interview broadcast on YouTube. Like Biden, he said Egypt has "been an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues."
"President Mubarak has been very helpful on a range of tough issues in the Middle East. But I've always said to him that making sure that they're moving forward on reform -- political reform, economic reform -- is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt," he said. "And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets. My main hope right now is that violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence, and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence."