Obama administration officials were also increasingly blunt in describing the limits of their leverage, reasserting that the United States is not seeking to dictate events in Egypt - and that it cannot.
"We're not going to be able to force them do anything," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
Still, Gibbs and other officials called on Egypt's leaders to end the harassment of activists, to broaden the makeup of their negotiations with opposition leaders, to lift a repressive emergency law, and to take up a series of other moves the Obama government has requested for days.
Obama himself reinforced that message in a phone call with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in which the president emphasized the need for "immediate steps toward an orderly transition that is meaningful, lasting, legitimate and responsive," the White House said.
The comments came as the Obama administration sought to get out a unified message - and to maintain its tricky diplomatic balance of suggesting what must happen in Egypt without prescribing exactly how it must happen, who must do it or how progress will be measured.
Thousands of state workers and impoverished Egyptians launched fresh strikes and protests around the country on Wednesday over their economic woes, despite warnings from Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman that they won't be tolerated much longer.
Gibbs suggested that some Egyptian leaders thought they could wait out the protesters by offering up some concessions and assuming "life will return to normal" after years of repression.
"I think that's largely been answered by a greater number of people, representing a greater cross-section of Egyptian society, who have come out seeking their grievances to be addressed," he said. "Those are not likely to dissipate until the government takes some genuine steps."
Suleiman has promised concessions such as new committees on constitutional amendments and oversight of proposed reforms.
At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley said that when U.S. officials criticize Egypt's government or advise it to take steps like removing the 30-year-old emergency law, that does not mean the United States is meddling.
"We don't see that as interference," Crowley said.
Obama's team has been grappling with complaints that its message on Egypt has been inconsistent and muddled, particularly on whether the administration has become more accepting of a slower transition from President Hosni Mubarak's power to a new government.
On Wednesday, a White House official and a State Department official held a joint conference call with the media, backing each other's points. They insisted the Obama administration has been clear all along about its core points of pushing for nonviolence, respect for universal rights and lasting, meaningful change in Egypt.
"The theory of the case has remained consistent across the statements of this government," said Jake Sullivan, director of policy planning at the State Department.
Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak was in Washington on Wednesday to discuss Egypt and other issues with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and White House national security adviser Tom Donilon. Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel and the future of that relationship is now a worrisome concern.
Israeli officials, moreover, have been critical of what they've seen as Washington's willingness to abandon Mubarak. The White House said the U.S. officials "stressed the United States' unshakeable commitment to Israel's security, including through our continued support for Israel's military" during their meeting with Barak.
Meanwhile, in an interview with "PBS NewsHour," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said he was furious at what he described as confusing messages from the Obama administration in the early days of the protests, which are now in their third week.
Aboul Gheit said demands for "change now" were equivalent to "imposing your will" on Egypt. He said the Obama administration's message is now much better because he believes it understands that abrupt change will lead to chaos.
"I think we now have an administration that understands exactly the difficulties of the situation and the dangers and the risks that are entailed in a rush towards chaos without end," Aboul Gheit said.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.