Obama Administration Downplays Notion of Rift With Egypt’s Mursi

The Obama administration downplayed any rift with the Egyptian government a day after President Barack Obama said he doesn’t consider Egypt an “ally,” following an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by protesters angered by an anti-Muslim film.

The president, “in diplomatic and legal terms, was speaking correctly” when he described Egypt’s status in an interview yesterday with Telemundo, White House press secretary Jay Carney said in Colorado, where Obama is campaigning. He said the U.S. doesn’t have a mutual defense agreement with Egypt as it does, for example, with other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor called Egypt a “long-standing and close partner of the United States” and said Obama is committed to “supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”

The remarks by the two spokesmen about the Telemundo interview also came after a statement early today from the White House describing a call between Obama and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi. On that call, Obama “underscored the importance of Egypt following through on its commitment to cooperate with the United States in securing U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel,” the administration said in the statement.

‘Work in Progress’

In the Telemundo interview, Obama was asked whether he considers the Mursi government a U.S. ally.

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” Obama said. He did not reference mutual defense treaties.

Describing the Egyptian government as new, democratically elected and “trying to find its way,” Obama said that “we are going to have to see how they respond” to the siege on the embassy and to maintaining a peace treaty with Israel. “I think it’s still a work in progress.”

Obama also said in the interview that the U.S. expected the Egyptian government to be “responsive” to protecting U.S. embassy and personnel and that if that doesn’t happen, “That’s going to be a real big problem.”

Carney said the administration wasn’t considering withholding aid to Egypt. “We have an important strategic partnership with Egypt and that partnership continues,” he said.

Egypt Aid

There has been support in Congress this year to maintain current levels of aid to Egypt amid the broad political changes there -- with more strings attached.

The appropriations panels in the Senate and House have both approved measures that would provide $250 million in aid to Egypt in the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Neither piece of legislation has advanced to the floors of their respective chambers yet. That’s the same amount as allowed for in the current year, and consistent with what Obama has requested.

The administration expects additional protests throughout the region, Carney said. Protesters attempted to storm the U.S. Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, while demonstrators rallied in Egypt and Iran as the furor over the film spread.

Obama, who is wrapping up a two-day campaign swing, received a briefing from Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough focused specifically on developments in the region and the progress of efforts under way to enhance security at U.S. facilities in the region, Carney said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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