Video: Obama, O’Reilly talk Egypt at Bowl pregame

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    >> president obama sat down with bill o 'reilly for a wide ranging interview during the super bowl coverage. mike viqueira is at the white house with details. good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning. it's a super bowl tradition. an interview with the network airing the game. the president continued to walk the political and diplomatic tight rope on egypt while where you shalling -- brushing off personal attacks. mr. obama sat down with a frequent critic, bill o 'reilly where the subject turned to egypt and hosni mubarak .

    >> only he knows what he's going to do. here's what we know. egypt is not going back to what it was. the egyptian people want freedom.

    >> reporter: he's come close in recent days.

    >> an orderly transition must be meaningful.

    >> reporter: president obama would not call for mubarak to step down before september elections.

    >> what we can do, bill, is we can say that the time is now for you to start making a change in that country.

    >> reporter: while conceding that there are anti-u.s. elements within the muslim brotherhood , the president was eager to play down their influence over egypt 's future.

    >> i think the muslim brotherhood is one faction in egypt . they don't have majority support.

    >> reporter: later the interview took a different turn.

    >> does it bother you that people hate you?

    >> the folks who hate you don't know you.

    >> that's true.

    >> what they hate is whatever funhouse mirror image of you that's out there. they don't know you. so you don't take it personally.

    >> reporter: meredith, the president will try to mend fences with another group he's been at odds with -- big business . we'll head across the park to the u.s. chamber of commerce , this country's biggest lobbying organization .

    >> all right, mike viqueira, thank

Image: Egyptian anti-government demonstrators
Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
Egyptian anti-government demonstrators pray at a barricade protecting the group from possible attacks by pro-government protesters in Tahrir Square, the center of anti-government demonstrations, in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday. A sense of normalcy began to return to the capital of some 18 million people, which has been largely closed since chaos erupted shortly after the protests began on Jan. 25.
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updated 2/7/2011 8:01:17 AM ET 2011-02-07T13:01:17

President Barack Obama said Sunday that Egypt is not going to go back to the way it was before pro-democracy protests roiled the country, and played down prospects that the Muslim Brotherhood would take a major role in a new government.

"I think that the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt," Obama said. "They don't have majority support."

Even so, Obama said the Brotherhood, a banned political and religious group in Egypt, is well-organized and that he hoped to see a representative government emerge in the country.

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Obama, speaking to Fox News ahead of the Super Bowl football broadcast, would not be drawn into predicting whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would step down.

"Only he knows what he's going to do," Obama said.

"The U.S. can't forcefully dictate, but what we can do is say the time is now for you to start making a change in your country," the president said. "Mubarak has already decided he's not going to run again."

Nearly two weeks into the Egyptian crisis, the Obama administration is still struggling to find a path forward that protects U.S. security interests without abandoning the pro-democracy protesters.

Video: Calm returns to Egypt, for now (on this page)

Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that while the administration supports the transition to a new government in Cairo — so long as it is inclusive and transparent — it must be the Egyptian people who decide if the reforms go far enough. She withheld judgment on the decision by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood to join discussions with the embattled government.

"We are going to wait and see how this develops," Clinton told National Public Radio before returning to Washington from an international security conference in Munich, Germany.

In Cairo, new Vice President Omar Suleiman met with a broad representation of major opposition groups for the first time and offered new concessions, including release of those detained since anti-government protests began nearly two weeks ago and the eventual lifting of the nation's emergency laws, which give police far-reaching powers for detention and suppression of civil and human rights.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry applauded the talks with opposition groups and called the move toward lifting the emergency laws "quite extraordinary." He called on President Hosni Mubarak to lay out a clear path toward a new government.

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Story: Mubarak still in power as government, opposition talk

"He must step aside gracefully and begin the process of transition to a caretaker government," Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told NBC television's "Meet the Press." "I believe that is happening right now. What's needed now is clarity in this process."

Clinton on Saturday made clear that the U.S. was throwing its weight behind nascent efforts by Cairo to make constitutional and other reforms before a presidential election is held, and to reach out to opposition groups.

"It takes time to think those through, to decide how one is going to proceed, who will emerge as leaders," she said. "The principles are very clear. The operational details are very challenging."

The crisis, which largely caught the White House by surprise, presents one of the toughest foreign policy challenges of Barack Obama's presidency. Even in the most optimistic outcome, with a government in Cairo that is broadly aligned with the U.S., the loss of Mubarak as a three-decade pillar of U.S. Mideast policy suggests that relations with Egypt will never be the same.

And if the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist political movement that is banned in autocratic Egypt — takes a central role in a future popularly elected government, the U.S. challenge will be even tougher.

Also at risk are the strong ties between American and Egyptian counterterrorism officials that both sides have cultivated over the past three decades.

Story: Mideast unrest complicates U.S. terror fight

Martin Indyk, a retired U.S. diplomat and former ambassador to Israel, said Obama deserves praise for his approach to the crisis so far, even if his message has seemed confused at times.

"He's kind of like a high-wire artist in which he's got to walk a fine line between wanting Mubarak to go but not go in a way that creates chaos, wanting to signal to the street that he's with them in their demands for democracy and universal rights," Indyk said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"And so the message sometimes gets a little blurred because you've got this, kind of, echo chamber that the administration finds itself in. And it's a very complicated position, but I would give President Obama credit here that, while he hasn't always got the messaging right, he's got the basic policy right," he said.

Egypt once had to contend with its own breed of hardcore Islamic militants. But brutal repression by the country's security services — most recently led by former intelligence chief Suleiman — largely eliminated them as a threat. The secretive Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization has been headed by al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri since 1991, but Egypt's secret police crushed the group.

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Another worry is the possibility that the post-Mubarak era in Cairo will put at risk Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to make peace with the Jewish state, and both Cairo and Amman have played important roles in Washington's effort to nudge Israel and the Palestinians toward peace. Mubarak hosted an Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation last September.

Clinton's speech in Munich on Saturday mirrored one she delivered last month in Qatar, when she warned regional leaders that the foundations of progress and development were "sinking into the sand" and would continue to do so unless those leaders acted to meet the aspirations of their people, particularly the large youth population. A day after that speech, Tunisia's longtime autocratic president was driven into exile amid a rebellion that inspired protesters in Egypt to step up demonstrations against their leadership.

In a revised travel warning, the State Department on Sunday urged Americans to avoid traveling to Egypt and said those in the country should consider leaving when it was safe. Commercial flights were available and no additional government-chartered flights were planned, the department said.

Last week the department ordered all non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members to leave Egypt.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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