The White House had to do some damage control on Thursday, after President Obama hinted that the U.S. no longer considers the Egyptian government an ally.
Obama, who spoke during an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo, added that at the same time “we don’t consider them an enemy.”
The interview was held less than 24 hours after violent mobs stormed American diplomatic outposts in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya. Obama said the new Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt was still “trying to find its way.”
“They were democratically elected. I think we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, to see how they respond to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel,” he said.
He added, alluding to the fact that Egypt was slow in responding to the attack on the American embassy in Cairo, “What we’ve seen is that in some cases, they’ve said the right things and taken the right steps. In others, how they’ve responded to other events may not be aligned with some of our interests, so I think it’s still a work in progress.
“But certainly in this situation what we’re going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected that our personnel is protected. And if they take actions that indicate they are not taking those responsibilities like all countries do where we have embassies, I think that’s going to be a real big problem.”
After eyebrows were raised over the comments, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement that “'ally' is a legal term of art. We don't have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is long-standing and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt's transition to democracy and working with the new government.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the same, claiming Obama was referring to the lack of an alliance treaty with Egypt. Both Carney and Vietor clarified that Egypt is a major partner, noting that Obama spoke Wednesday with President Mohammed Morsi.
Earlier on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton adopted a pedagogical tone in a message to Muslims, explaining that violence runs contrary to the creed of their "great religion."
Clinton said the current wave of anti-American violence in the Middle East is "unacceptable." She added that while the video that Muslims say provoked their violence was indeed "disgusting," this did not justify violence. She also said that it was "especially wrong" to attack embassies.