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Turmoil in Egypt, Obama Delivers Remarks on Recent Events in Egypt

Aired August 15, 2013 - 11:00   ET



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the Egyptian people let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop. We call on the Egyptian authorities to respect the universal rights of the people. We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully and condemn the attacks that we've seen by protestors, including on churches.

We believe that the state of emergency should be lifted, that a process of national reconciliation should begin, that all parties needed to have a voice in Egypt's future, that the rights of women and religious minorities should be respected, and the commitments must be kept to pursue transparent reforms to the constitution and democratic elections of a parliament and a president.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: In Egypt there is more violence on the street as we speak, members of the Muslim Brotherhood storming a government building in Giza. That's where the pyramids are located.

Supporters of the ousted President Mohamed Morsy are also attacking police stations, hospitals, and government buildings in areas outside of Cairo.

Our Fred Pleitgen is in Cairo. He joins us live on the telephone right now. Fred, the president has just spoken, but give me a feel for what's happening on the street right now.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It seems, Ashleigh, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be regrouping after what happened yesterday.

Obviously, they were very shocked after the crackdown that happened on their sit-ins, and we've seen the death toll throughout the day rise considerably. It was at about 230 when the day started. Now it's at well over 500. So this was clearly a shock to the Muslim Brotherhood.

But now it seems as though they are regrouping. As you said, there have some buildings that were raided by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And right now, I'm actually standing in front of a mosque in Nasr City which is a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. And I would say there was about 3,000 of them outside this mosque and this mosque, they said, at some point it had 500 bodies inside it of people who were killed in that crackdown.

I was in there earlier today. I couldn't count exactly how many bodies were there, but it was a lot of dead people inside that mosque. There were families trying to pick them up. Obviously a lot of people and a lot of grief.

And one thing you could tell is that what happened yesterday clearly has fueled the flames more than anything else in the recent days here in Egypt, and what I'm hearing from members of the Muslim Brotherhood is that they will not stand down and indeed they say they're going to fight back after all this.


BANFIELD: There are so many questions. It's not just the Muslim Brotherhood out in the streets right now. There are other supporters of President Morsy, as well.

But first and foremost, it's only been minutes since the president wrapped up his comments, Fred, but is there any reaction? Has it had an effect at all where this is happening?

PLEITGEN (via telephone): It hasn't had any sort of effect at this point in time. Certainly one of the things that you hear from members of the Muslim Brotherhood, that they do have respect for the things that the president has said when he said that the interim government needs to respect religious minorities, that the violence has to stop immediately.

This is certainly something that the members of the Muslim Brotherhood are saying, as well.

But we have to keep in mind right now Egypt is a nation on the edge. There are people who are saying it might be a nation on the brink of possible civil turmoil, of civil strive.

So you have the government saying all of this was started by the Muslim Brotherhood, that the army was attacked when they went into those camps yesterday, and yet the Muslim Brotherhood saying the army were the ones who immediately opened fire when they went in there and all that violence has polarized the nation more than it has before.

And this was a nation that was divided to begin with, so certainly it will take a lot more than a speech by the president to change that, but we are seeing sort of some reaction initially to what he said even though it might not change anything in the short term, certainly people are definitely taking note of it here in Cairo.

BANFIELD: Fred Pleitgen, live for us in Cairo. Stand by if you will.

I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper in Washington.

Wolf, I asked Fred about the effect of what the president said on the ground there in Egypt and it's not clear exactly what it is, but did we expect what we heard? Did he go any farther than what we expected the president to say?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": I didn't expect that he would sever the entire military-to-military relationship by announcing a cutoff in aid, in military aid, $1.3 billion a year to Egypt.

That would have been -- certainly he's holding out that possibility down the road. He certainly didn't say there was a coup. He said there was military intervention that resulted in the removal of Mohamed Morsy as the president of Egypt.

But he didn't go so far as to say there was a coup. He didn't announce a break in the assistance, the economic and military aid to Egypt. He announced a suspension, a postponement, or actually, he used the word cancellation of the joint military exercise scheduled for next month called Bright Star.

That's a significant development. Hundreds and hundreds of Egyptian and U.S. troops were scheduled to train in Sinai. It sends a message. And the president did use the words "further steps" would take place if there was no movement on the part of the interim government and military leadership in Egypt to do the right thing from his perspective.

So he's trying to take this middle ground, hoping that it will result in some sort of conciliatory action. But given the violence, given the bloodshed yesterday that's continuing today, it's by no means certainly any of that's going to have much of an impact.

BANFIELD: Yeah, that middle ground, I think, was so clear in the way he chose to sort of point the blame in this story, first saying that he opposes martial law, secondly saying he's also asking those protesters to be peaceful and specifically mentioned that churches have also been attacked.

So, Jake, asking for peace on both sides, do you get anything effectuated by not cracking down and saying enough is enough for one party, particularly the government?

JAKE TAPPER, ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": A senior White House official told me that the way that this came about is that, first of all, yesterday, President Obama had been briefed on the situation in Egypt by his national security adviser, Dr. Susan Rice.

But then this morning, the president had a phone call which is referred to as the "principals meeting." These are the principle players, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the director of national intelligence and so on. And it was in that briefing that the president heard what the result was of yesterday, what actually -- how bad it was after the smoke cleared.

And that motivated him to come out today and call for calm, but as you note, he called for not only the government to stop the violence, but for demonstrators to demonstrate peacefully. That, according to the senior White House official with whom I spoke, is because of reports from the region of not only attacks on churches, but about violent demonstrators, attacks on police stations. So, yes, this was without question a call for calm on both sides, even if the government may be primarily responsible for most of the bloodshed yesterday.


BANFIELD: And then, Wolf, look, when the president makes very clear in these remarks that this is a problem for the Egyptian people to solve, is that effectively a license to kill on both sides of this battle, whether it's the government or the supporters of Morsy?

BLITZER: No, what the president want and what everyone wants is for both sides to start talking to each other and get some sort of coalition.

I don't know if that's doable right now, certainly not in the short term, to bring in the supporters of Mohamed Morsy, especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, bring them in as part of this process to establish elections, if you will, in the coming months.

It looks like the Egyptian military, though, is determined to do away with the Muslim Brotherhood as President Mubarak was, as President Sadat was. Going back for many years in Egypt, they wanted to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood made a dramatic comeback and Mohamed Morsy, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected, 52 percent of the vote.

But as the president said, he may have been democratically elected, but this was not a government that was inclusive. This was not a government that respected views.

And then he said that maybe a majority of the people wanted to get rid of it and there was some military, in his words, military intervention. He didn't use the word coup, which is a sensitive word because that could potentially trigger an aid suspension from the United States to Egypt.

So I wouldn't expect any dramatic political moves between the two sides anytime soon. What I would expect is much more violence, and let's hope it doesn't escalate into a full-scale civil war.

BANFIELD: Yeah, let's hope it's not exactly that issue, the license to kill that some might have heard in those remarks.

Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper, look forward to your reporting throughout the day on this.

I also want to bring in our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. Lucky for me, he's right here live in New York.

Usually I go to you in the middle of all of this. In fact just a couple weeks ago, you were in the middle of all of this, and what I'm seeing, Nick, is that a lot of the American correspondents and foreign correspondents are having a very tough time covering this story and getting the actual story because nobody wants them there.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are in many ways despised by both sides. There was the very tragic death of British cameraman, Mick Deane, yesterday, seemingly shot at one of the demonstrations there.

It's incredible to experience the animosity that the anti-Morsy crowd feel against the Western media because they think you're a manifestation of the government which they believe, in fact, supported the Muslim Brotherhood, the Morsy presidency. There's a belief that the Obama administration by allowing that democratic process was, in fact, putting Morsy in his place.

And then, of course, there's a residual, suspicion amongst the pro- Morsy demonstrators, the Muslim Brotherhood, that, of course, because America backs Israel that somehow you're beholden to their greater enemy in the region.

So there's an animosity there, certainly, and the crowds, you just can't really -- until you experience it, you can't even imagine the anger they feel towards many outsiders trying to document what's going on.

BANFIELD: When you see these pictures, you certainly get a good sense of it, but listen, we tend to think that when the president of the United States stands up and does a live news conference, that every ounce of what he says, every letter of what he says, is taken literally, it is over parsed and it's also surmised that he's either for or against your side.

Is it that way? Is it that simple anymore? Do these people give a hoot anymore what the president has to say?

WALSH: It's wildly misinterpreted. I mean, I remember a crowd surrounding us in Cairo, and it was pretty dicey. Some people were trying to get us out, and one of the guys arguing in English for us to be released, as we walked away, started shouting at me, saying, we hate Obama's policy on this.

And I'm trying to imagine exactly what (inaudible) -- all of it. I mean, you see the speech today and you see the cutting of this military exercise. That's really not going to have any sharp intake of breath amongst Egypt's generals.

They have seen the diplomatic process potentially pushed through by William Burns that failed. They've seen high-ranking senators come. And now 500 people have been killed, mostly by security forces, and the best Washington is prepared to do is throw down a military exercise.

BANFIELD: Can I ask you something, and this may not come off as sounding very sympathetic and I'm sorry if it does, but I think a lot of Americans look at the Muslim Brotherhood and think, before all of this began in Egypt, it was the Muslim Brotherhood calling for the death of Americans in great part. Not everyone, of course, but in great part, they were seen as antagonizers, they were seen as haters of America, as haters of the American way.

And now it's the Muslim Brotherhood, effectively, if what I'm getting from you as accurate, saying, why aren't you helping us more, America?

WALSH: To a degree. I mean, Islamism exists in the region and the Muslim Brotherhood is the more moderate manifestation of that.

So, I mean, if there are any people you wanted to encourage to be part of the political process, it would be them inside Egypt.

And I think the fear is, across the region now, you see this happening, the marginalization of them in Egyptian politics and society, a civil war happening on such similar grounds in Syria and Iraq, too.

BANFIELD: I was just going to say, in Syria as well, it's the same argument. People who called for our heads on stakes, suddenly saying, help us from our oppressive government.

WALSH: That's the contradiction of this entire region.

BANFIELD: I know you have a lot more work to do, and so we're going to tap into you as much as we can on this story.

And let's hope we're not going to be covering too much bloodshed as it moves forward.

Nick, good to see you again, in New York. Thank you. And thank you for all the work you do in the field as well.

These guys really risk their lives to bring the story to us. We're much appreciative.

As we return after the break, we're going to continue with the effects here in the United States of what's happening in Egypt and, make no mistake, there is a grave effect here in the United States.

Look at these pictures and, remember, we send billions of your dollars to these people every year.

Newt Gingrich, our new host of "CROSSFIRE," coming up with his thoughts on this in a moment.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to our continuing breaking news, the coverage of the crisis in Egypt. I want to bring in the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, to get his take on what the president has said and the possible effects thereof.

The former speaker of the House also happens to be a brand new colleague of mine. Nice to welcome you to the program, Newt. I suppose I can call you Newt now that we're partners. Your new show, "CROSSFIRE," is set to launch on September 16th and I can imagine this will give you plenty of fodder to discuss. I want to get your initial thoughts when you heard what the president had to say. Did he go far enough, did he go too far?

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE/CNN HOST: First of all, clearly if "CROSSFIRE" were on tonight, this would be a topic we'd consider very seriously to spend the whole half hour just talking, exploring this one question.

I think we need to take a deep breath and recognize that neither the Bush strategy nor the Obama strategy has worked, and really rethink what we're doing in the region. You have in Egypt today, it's possible that the most effective outcome from an American perspective will be the army taking control for a while, dramatically reducing the influence and capacity of the Muslim Brotherhood, and while that sounds on the surface like it's against our Democratic values, the face is the Muslim Brotherhood was against our Democratic values and 70 percent of Egypt wanted to replace Morsy before this military coup, and it was a coup. But it may be that there's no good outcome in the moral sense. They're just less dangerous outcomes.

The same thing is happening in Syria where the more we know about the opposition to Assad, the more you have to ask yourself the question whether or not from an American perspective we wouldn't be in less danger if Assad re-established control of his country.

Now, I know that's, for some of my friends, that will come as a very controversial statement, but just looking at reality, we don't have the will, and we don't have resources to decisively reshape the region. Nothing the president is doing will do that. And I think is this may be the moment of having that dialogue.

BANFIELD: And that's what I was asking Nick Paton Walsh. Until September the 16, you will be Mr. Speaker, so Mr. Speaker, thank you for joining us. Good luck with "CROSSFIRE," and thank you for your thoughts.

I want to turn right now to the President of the United States, his address, here is the full remarks on camera from the President of the United States.



I just finished a discussion with my national security team about the situation in Egypt, and I wanted to provide an update about our response to the events of the last several days.

Let me begin by stepping back for a moment. The relationship between the United States and Egypt goes back decades. It's rooted in our respect of Egypt as a nation and ancient center of civilization, and a cornerstone for peace in the Middle East. It's also rooted in our ties to the Egyptian people, forged through a longstanding partnership.

Just over two years ago, America was inspired by the Egyptian people's desire for change as millions of Egyptians took to the streets to defend their dignity and demand a government that was responsive to their aspirations for political freedom and economic opportunity. And we said at the time that change would not come quickly or easily, but we did align ourselves with a set of principles: nonviolence, a respect for universal rights, and a process for political and economic reform.

In doing so, we were guided by values, but also by interests, because we believe nations are more stable and more successful when they're guided by those principles as well.

And that's why we're so concerned by recent events. We appreciate the complexity of the situation. While Mohammed Morsy was elected president in a democratic election, his government was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians. We know that many Egyptians, millions of Egyptians, perhaps even a majority of Egyptians were calling for a change in course.

OBAMA: And while we do not believe that force is the resolve differences, after the military's intervention several weeks ago, there remained a chance for reconciliation and an opportunity to pursue a democratic path.

Instead, we've seen a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsy's associations and supporters, and now, tragically, violence that's taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.

The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom or that might makes right. And today, the United States extends its condolences to the families of those who were killed and those who were wounded.

Given the depths of our partnership with Egypt, our national security interests in this pivotal part of the world, and our belief that engagement can support a transition back to a democratically- elected civilian government, we've sustained our commitment to Egypt and its people. But, while we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.

OBAMA: As a result, this morning we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our biannual joint military exercise, which was scheduled for next month. Going forward, I've asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship.

Let me say, the Egyptian people deserve better than what we've seen over the last several days. And to the Egyptian people, let me say, the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop. We call on the Egyptian authorities to respect the universal rights of the people. We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully, and condemn the attacks that we've seen by protesters, including on churches.

We believe that the state of emergency should be lifted, that a process of national reconciliation should begin, that all parties need to have a voice in Egypt's future, that the rights of women and religious minorities should be respected and the commitments must be kept to pursue transparent reforms of the constitution and democratic elections of a parliament and a president.

And pursuing that path will help Egypt meet the democratic aspirations of its people while attracting the investment, tourism and international support that can help it deliver opportunities to its citizens.

Violence, on the other hand, will only keep the cycle of polarization that isolates Egyptians from one another and from the world and that continues to hamper the opportunity for Egypt to get back on the path of economic growth.

Now, let me make one final point. America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure. I know it's tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States or the West or some other outside actor for what's gone wrong.

OBAMA: We've been blamed by supporters of Morsy. We've been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Morsy. That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve. We want Egypt to succeed. We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That's our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work.

We recognize that change takes time and that a process like this is never guaranteed. There are examples in recent history of countries that are transitioned out of a military government towards a democratic government, and it didn't always go in a straight line, and the process was not always smooth. There are going to be false starts. There will be difficult days.

America's democratic journey took us through some mighty struggles to perfect our union. From Asia to the Americas, we know that democratic transitions are measured not in months or even years, but sometimes in generations.

So in the spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect, I want to be clear that America wants to be a partner in the Egyptian people's pursuit of a better future, and we are guided by our national interest in this longstanding relationship. But our partnership must also advance the principles that we believe in, and that so many Egyptians have sacrificed for these last several years, no matter what party or faction they belong to.

So, America will work with all those in Egypt and around the world who support a future of stability that rests on a foundation of justice and peace and dignity.

Thank you very much.


BANFIELD: So as the president clearly not prepared to take any questions after those remarks, I just wanted to let you know that as we were airing that, we have other news that's just come in. Egyptian state run TV has said that militants, Egyptian militants, have killed four soldiers and wounded four others in the Sinai according to security sources. The Sinai of course north of Cairo, there's a lot of violence going on in disparate areas of Egypt.

You probably heard about the violence in Giza earlier, just outside of Cairo where the pyramids are located. Check with the State Department if you have any plans to travel to Egypt. But clearly the danger continues and the militants not at least at this point listening to what the president had to say about peaceful protesting with four soldiers killed. We'll keep an eye on Egypt for you, bring you any updates as they happen.

And then of course we also have our legal stories we're covering as well. We have some brand new details that have come out on the kidnapping of Hannah Anderson. We've got our hands on the search warrant and it lays out some things that the police found. Astuonding.

Also Miss Teen USA, sextorted. It's a new word. It's a new reality. She gets an e-mail from a man who says he hacked into her webcam, snapped pictures of her, and wants money to keep them private. She's going to speak out, tell you what has happened.

And $9 million is the bond that has been set for this doctor, a doctor accused of dishing chemotherapy to patients whether they needed it or not. Find out why coming up.

Also, did you realize your e-mails on Google's G-Mail might not be as private as you think? They're not. We'll explain this coming up on this hour of THE LEGAL VIEW. Stay with us.