The White House on Monday predicted "a bumpy ride" ahead in Egypt for negotiations that President Barack Obama's spokesman said must lead to free and fair elections and a responsive democracy.
After saying in an interview Sunday on FOX television that Egypt cannot "go back to where it was," President Obama's only comment on Egypt on Monday was a brief remark to reporters as he walked from the White House to deliver a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The president said "we're making progress," referring to negotiations between the Egyptian government and others to resolve the political crisis.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Mr. Obama's assessment. "We have the beginnings of a process that we know has to include a series of steps that have to be taken, and a series of things that have to be negotiated with a broad section of the opposition parties in order to move us towards a free and fair election," he said.
Saying the process of change in Egypt will be "bumpy," Gibbs echoed previous statements saying only the Egyptian people will be able to evaluate whether words are turned into action.
Answering a question on FOX television on Sunday, President Obama said "some strains" of the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology are anti-U.S., but he added that the group is only one political faction in Egypt that does not enjoy majority support.
White House Video: President Obama on Egypt
Asked about potential Muslim Brotherhood participation in negotiations, the president's spokesman said the United States has "significant disagreements" with the anti-American rhetoric of some its leaders.
The State Department and the White House describe the situation in Egypt as being about "a process rather than about personalities."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was asked Monday whether the political situation would be complicated by a hasty departure by President Mubarak, saying that could happen because of the way political succession in Egypt is structured.
"If president Mubarak stepped down today, under the existing constitution as I understand it, there would have to be an election within 60 days. A question that would be posed is whether Egypt today is prepared to have a competitive, open election, given the recent past where, quite honestly, elections were less than free and far," he said.
On political negotiations, Crowley said the United States is concerned that talks held so far are not broad-based enough, and could affect whether Egyptians see them as credible. "There are people who have not been invited in, and this needs to be inclusive. There are people who are holding the transition process at arms-length because they don’t believe it’s going to be credible. And our advice would be to test the seriousness of the government and those who are participating to see if it can deliver, and from this people have confidence that change is actually going to occur," he said.
White House Press Secretary Gibbs told reporters that the United States is strongly encouraging a process of meaningful change in Egypt, in which the government outlines a "series of steps and a timeline" that the Egyptian people are comfortable with.
Asked about remarks by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, who was quoted as saying that his country is not ready for democracy, Gibbs said it is clear that statements like that will not be met with "any agreement by the people of Egypt."
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