White House Press Gaggle by Robert Gibbs Aboard Air Force One, Feb. 3, 2011

En Route University Park, Pennsylvania–(ENEWSPF)–February 3, 2011 – 11:11 A.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Let me — if I can, let me just start with a few thoughts.  I want to reiterate our administration and our country’s strong condemnation of the violence and the images that we’ve seen over the past many hours.

The government of Egypt has to ensure that peaceful protests can take place.  We have obviously seen the remarks of the Prime Minister today and hope that his acknowledgment that anybody that is involved in this will be held accountable is something that the government is serious about.

I want to say a word for a second on the systematic targeting of journalists in Egypt.  This also is completely and totally unacceptable.  Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately.  I think we need to be clear that the world is watching the actions that are taking place right now in Egypt.  And I’ll reiterate again that the actions of targeting journalists, that is unacceptable, and that those journalists should be, if they are detained, released immediately.  I know the President has been briefed on this as part of the daily briefing this morning.

Next, I would like to again reiterate that the — as we have said all along — that the time for the transition in Egypt is now, and it is important that we all begin to see meaningful steps toward that transition and that negotiations take place between the government and a broadly based group of members of the opposition as we work through, as I said, the transition toward free and fair elections.

So, with that, let me take a few of your questions.

Q    I heard that Ambassador Wisner perhaps has already met with President Obama.  Can you tell us if that’s happened?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me — I will double-check that.  I don’t know the answer to that off the top —

Q    Do you know — who should we say is representing the United States right now with Wisner back in the U.S.?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Margaret Scobey is our ambassador in Egypt.  Margaret obviously was fully aware of and spent time with former Ambassador Wisner.  Margaret is — has spoken directly with the President in the past few days.

We had a deputies committee meeting this morning in the Situation Room at 8:30 a.m.  Those meetings have, for the past many days, started with Margaret providing an update of the situation on the ground, of embassy personnel and of American citizens.

So she’s in contact with all levels of Egyptian government.

Q    Robert, did the President call the President of Yemen to discuss what happened in Yemen and Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get a readout of the call.  The President spoke with President Saleh yesterday afternoon in Washington.  From Washington, excuse me.

Q    Robert, can you talk a little bit about the conversations, the latest conversations that the government has had with Israel and what — and sort of the impact on —

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have, Michael, a readout beyond the readouts from the weekend and the President’s conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Q    Do you know that there have been — have there been conversations since then?

MR. GIBBS:  Not with the President, but certainly in staff — staff at the NSC continue to — folks like Dan Shapiro and Dennis Ross are in touch with their counterparts in the Israeli government and we’re in touch with governments throughout the region.

Q    Does the administration want Mubarak to step down now?

MR. GIBBS:  I’d refer you to my answer on that yesterday.  I think the — I’m not going to get into the private conversations that the President has had with President Mubarak.

The time for transition, as the President said, is now.  And it is important that the world see some concrete steps toward meaningful change.  As I enumerated a minute ago, that change should begin with broad-based negotiations between the government and opposition leaders.

Q    Anything else that would be a concrete step that you would look at and think of as a good sign?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, obviously the ability to protest peacefully.  We continue to call for restraint and nonviolence.  I think an immediate step is, as we talk about the individual rights and freedoms that those in Egypt must have, one of those freedoms has to be the rights of journalists to be able to move around and report on the goings-on in the country.

Q    Has there been any consideration of the need for an outside force in Egypt to separate the two factions, like a U.N. involvement to prevent any escalation?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not heard any discussion on that.

All right?

Q    Can you talk about Senator McCain’s role?  There’s been some chatter in Washington that he’s kind of acting as a proxy for the administration, or do his comments reflect the views of the administration after his talk with the President yesterday?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t want to speak for Senator McCain.  I think Senator McCain was — I think they had a very good conversation on a whole host of issues, foreign and domestic.  But I don’t think you should see — necessarily see his comments as comments that are — I think they’re reflective of his position.

All right?  Thanks, guys.

Q    Thanks, Robert.

11:18 A.M. EST