POLITICS
06/01/2010 03:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Flotilla Response Won't Hurt Obama's Standing In Muslim World, Says Gibbs

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stressed on Tuesday that the administration's response to the deadly raid of a pro-Palestinian relief ship by Israeli military forces will not damage the president's standing in the Muslim world, even as the broader international community has been more forceful in its condemnation of Israel.

"The president has spent a lot of time improving our relationship with countries throughout the world and special time and care with our relationship with the Muslim world," Gibbs said at Tuesday's daily briefing. "I do not think that this will have a great impact on that.'

The press secretary would not weigh in too deeply or with much detail into the Monday raid, which resulted in the deaths of 16 activists and has spurred a torrent of tough responses from the international community. The United States, he noted, signed on to a Security Council resolution that express deep regret over the loss of life resulting from the Israel military operation.

But the resolution only condemned "those acts" which resulted in the loss of life without specifying who was responsible for the acts. And when Gibbs was pressed to specify which party, exactly, the president considers responsible, he punted.

Does the president think Israel's operation, which occurred on international seas, is a violation of law?

"I'm not an international law expert," said Gibbs.

Does he believe that the blockade of Gaza by Israeli forces is counterproductive?

"I'm not going to get into the international law implications of this," said Gibbs.

Was the decision to board the ships via helicopter a wise one for the Israel Defense Forces to make?

"I am many things," said Gibbs. "I'm not an international law expert and I'm not a military tactician."

The press secretary did cede some ground, but only incremental steps. He said the president would be "open to" international participation in an investigation into what actually occurred. Gibbs also didn't close the door on the president canceling an upcoming trip to Indonesia, but that may have more to do with the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf as opposed to the current flareup of tempers in the Middle East.

Pressed as to why the White House isn't coming down harder on its longtime ally when the rest of the world seems to be expressing anger and disgust, Gibbs suggested that there is little daylight between the United States and the broader international community.

"Nothing can bring [the dead] back, Helen [Thomas]," he said to the longtime White House scribe. "We know that for sure. If we could, that wouldn't be up for debate. We believe that a credible and transparent investigation and as I said earlier we are open to international participation in that investigation."