"We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
While at the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs voiced sympathy for the Egyptian people.
"Let's be clear, the people of Egypt are watching the government's actions. They have for quite some time. And their grievances have reached a boiling point and they have to be addressed," said Gibbs.
But the administration stopped short of explicit threats and angry denunciations of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who despite his authoritarian rule, has been a vital U.S. partner in the Arab world for 30 years.
He's worked closely with presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now President Obama -- who in 2009 invited Mubarak to the Oval Office to talk issues ranging from Middle East peace to the war in Iraq to Iran's nuclear weapons program.
"I am grateful to President Mubarak for his visit, for his willingness to work with us on these critical issues," said Obama on Aug. 18, 2009.
Despite that close relationship the U.S. has little control over Mubarak's actions now.
Today, using what leverage it has, the White House warned Egypt it's considering cutting foreign aid.
During the 30 years of Mubarak's rule, Egypt has ranked second in U.S. aid with a staggering $68 billion dollars.
Mubarak's survival is impossible to predict. And even if he survives, his plan to make his son his heir apparent is now in serious jeopardy.
That uncertainty has the White House walking a tightrope.
"Clearly we've got to walk a fine line between supporting democracy and the principles we espouse and supporting countries that have been long-standing friends of the United States," said CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate.
But former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker says it's time for the Obama Administration to side more forcefully with the Egyptian people, even if that means abandoning their long-time ally.
"He has had a blank check and somebody has to wake him up," said Walker. "We don't need Mubarak. We need Egypt. Egypt is important to us, but Mubarak is not Egypt."
And making clear how little control the Wnited States has of the situation, the President said in the end, the future of Egypt is in the hands of the Egyptian people.