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White House silent after Mubarak shocker

The Obama administration has gone silent following the latest speech by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in which he seemed to cede some powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but refused to step down from office. "We don’t have any immediate comment," National Security Spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. Follow-up requests for information about how ...

The Obama administration has gone silent following the latest speech by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in which he seemed to cede some powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but refused to step down from office.

"We don't have any immediate comment," National Security Spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. Follow-up requests for information about how the White House was processing the latest news from Cairo went unreturned. The State Department cancelled its daily press briefing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton canceled two scheduled interviews, and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley's latest tweet on the matter was several hours ago.

The Obama administration has gone silent following the latest speech by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in which he seemed to cede some powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but refused to step down from office.

"We don’t have any immediate comment," National Security Spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. Follow-up requests for information about how the White House was processing the latest news from Cairo went unreturned. The State Department cancelled its daily press briefing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton canceled two scheduled interviews, and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley’s latest tweet on the matter was several hours ago.

"The #Egyptian people will keep coming to #TahrirSquare. #Democracy means that peaceful protesters are both tolerated and protected," Crowley tweeted at about 9 a.m., when news reports were predicting Mubarak would resign.

The administration may be seeking to stem the flood of confusion following a stream of statements on Egypt from senior officials in various testimonies to Congress Thursday morning. CIA Director Leon Panetta was forced to clarify his statement earlier today when he said, "I have heard there’s a strong likelihood Mubarak will step down this evening," explaining that his comment was based on news reports, not intelligence data.

At the same hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stunned lawmakers when he declared that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was "largely secular."

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg was able to stay on message, refusing to comment on the ever evolving situation on the ground and repeating the administration’s line that change must come — and be based on — the core principles of non-violence, respect for universal rights, and real political reform.

But there’s no doubt that the White House’s delicate balancing act, whereby they have expressed support for the transitional process led by Suleiman while still pressing him for greater openness in that process, has now been overtaken by events. Exactly what the new message will be is what the administration is working on right now.

Mubarak and his ministers have been critical of the statements coming out of the Obama administration and in his speech Mubarak defiantly stated, "I have never ever been accepting any sort of foreign intervention in Egyptian affairs."

In an interview Wednesday with PBS News Hour, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that U.S. statements calling for faster reform were not helpful, "because when you speak about prompt, immediate, now, as if you are imposing on a great country like Egypt, a great friend that have always maintained the best of relationship with the United States, you are imposing your will on him."

Speaking earlier on Thursday in Michigan at a scheduled event, President Barack Obama stayed away from making news on the crisis in Egypt and cautioned that the events in Cairo were still very much up in the air.

"We are following today’s events in Egypt very closely and we’ll have more to say as this plays out," the president said. "But what is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It’s a moment of transformation that’s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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