White House press secretary Robert Gibbs began his briefing by announcing that on June 4, the president will give a speech in Egypt about America’s relations with the Muslim world. The next day, President Obama will travel to Dresden, Germany, and visit Buchenwald concentration camp. On June 6, as had already been announced, the president will participate in the 65th anniversary ceremonies of the invasion of Normandy.
The AP’s Chuck Babington asked Gibbs if the president consider Egypt to be a democracy.
"I think the issues of democracy and human rights are — are things that are on the president’s mind," Gibbs said. "And we’ll have a chance to discuss those in more depth on the trip."
Asked for some insight into why the president chose Egypt for this speech — a speech to the Muslim world he had pledged during the campaign — Gibbs said Egypt "is a country that in many ways represents the heart of the — of the Arab world. And I think it will be a terrific opportunity for the president to address and discuss our relationship with the Muslim world."
TAPPER: Why Egypt as a location for this major address?
GIBBS: Well, I’ve really nothing to add from what — what I told Chuck.
TAPPER: Obviously, Egypt is considered — there are a lot of Muslims who look at the leadership of Egypt warily and consider it to be exactly the problem with leaders in the Muslim world.
TAPPER: Al-Zawahiri came from a terrorist organization that would fight Egyptian leaders. Is it possible that this is a bad selection?
GIBBS: No, I — I think, as I mentioned earlier, I think in many ways, this is the heart of the Arab world. And I think in many ways — this isn’t a — this isn’t a speech — this isn’t a speech to leaders. This is a speech to many, many people and a continuing effort by this president and this White House to demonstrate how we can work together to ensure the safety and security and the future well-being through hope and opportunity of the children of this country and of the Muslim world. And that’s what the president set out to do when he promised to give this speech. And that’s exactly what he intends to do next month.
TAPPER: I guess my only point is there are a lot of Muslims who think of Mubarak and the Egyptian leaders as a part of the problem.
GIBBS: Right. Well, you know, again, this is not about who the leaders might be of any certain country. This is about the way the president views this relationship, the way he thinks this country should view that relationship and the shared and common progress that we can make to strengthen that relationship and — and fight extremism.
In the course of the briefing Gibbs noted that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did not invite President Obama, but rather "this is a country that we selected to speak in." He underlined that speaking in Egypt was not an endorsement of the Mubarak government.
And he noted that the Muslim is world is much larger than just the "Arab world" of which he said Egypt represented the heart. "It is my mistake to use only the connotation of Arab Muslims and not — or Arab Muslims rather than obviously Indonesia is a place that is special to the president. It’s — it’s also the largest Muslim nation in the world."
Noting that in Turkey the president said the US was not at war with Islam, Gibbs said the Egypt speech will be about "tak(ing) that phrase and build(ing) on it, to understand the relationships that we have to have in this world to make progress, not just for our country, but for all of the world, to ensure the safety and security of America, but to ensure the safety and security of others around the world, to ensure hope and opportunity here and hope and opportunity, again, around the world. I think having spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, I think all of this gives the president the opportunity, hopefully, to extend a hand to those that, in many ways, are like us, but just simply have a different religion."