President Obama on Tuesday praised what he called the right signals coming out of Egypt and outlined an agenda for dealing with continuing unrest in the Mideast.
Speaking at a news conference, Obama also was optimistic on domestic economic issues, saying he expected successful negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on his proposed $3.7-trillion budget and talks down the road to deal with the thorny issues of changes in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
The question-and-answer session was Obama’s first solo press conference since late December and gave reporters a chance to question the president on economic issues and to more fully probe the president’s views on the situation in Egypt and other pro-democracy movements throughout the Arab world.
“Obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done in Egypt itself,” Obama said in the wake of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the takeover of government by the army. “What we have seen so far is positive.”
Obama said Egypt is going to require help in developing democratic institutions, but so far the country is sending “the right signals.”
Noting that a wave of protests has spread across the region, Obama posed a plan for United States policy.
“Each country is different, each country has its own traditions,” Obama said. “America can’t dictate,” but “there are certain universal principles we adhere to, we don’t believe in violence, we don’t believe in coercion.”
Obama said people should have a right to express their opinions in public. He drew a contrast between the demonstrations in Egypt and those in Iran, which have been stifled by the government.
“We have sent a strong message to allies in the region, ‘Let us look at Egypt’s example as opposed to Iran’s.’ ”
Obama also argued that change was an ongoing process. “Real change in these societies is not going to happen because of terrorism, it will happen because people come together,” the president said. “We are obviously concerned about stability,” he said. “The world is changing,” and the issue is to “get ahead of change.”
On the budget, Obama said he is prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to cut spending and decrease deficits and the budget.
Obama’s budget does not include proposals for dealing with the structural issues, but the president said he believed those issues could be resolved through talks.
“I am confident we can get Social Security done,” Obama said, citing past talks between the president and Congress to save the retirement program. “Medicare and Medicaid are huge problems,” he said, but can also be solved by working with Democrats and Republicans in a serious way.
Memoli reported from Washington and Muskal from Los Angeles.