Frank Wisner created a bit of a diplomatic tempest when he went off message in Munich on Saturday and said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should stay in place to oversee the transition. “We need to get a national consensus around the pre-conditions for the next step forward. The president (Mubarak) must stay in office to steer those changes.”
That set the State Department and White House into scramble mode, trying to downplay Wisner’s role, after actually sending him on Jan. 31 to personally deliver a U.S. government message to Mubarak to take more action in response to mass protests.
Administration feathers got so ruffled that the White House tried backpedaling on whether Wisner had actually in fact been an envoy.
The Cable blog on foreignpolicy.com quoted National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor saying: “He is not and was not a U.S. envoy. He was not sent to negotiate. He is an individual who has a long history with President Mubarak and thus could deliver a clear message. He spoke to President Mubarak once, reported on his conversation, and then came home.”
On Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also tried distancing: “I want to be clear that, as I think many of us told you, former Ambassador Wisner is not an employee of the government. He was, based on his broad experience in Egypt, asked by the State Department — and I would direct you to the State Department on the specifics of anything regarding him — to travel to Cairo and have a specific conversation with President Mubarak. He did, and reported that back to us.”