Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said on Wednesday that his virulent anti-Semitic comments, which he reportedly said prior to his election and which were condemned by the United States on Tuesday, were taken out of context.
"The president stressed they were taken from comments on the Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and stressed the need to put the remarks in the right context," said a statement from the president’s office issued following a meeting between Morsi and United States Senator John McCain on Wednesday.
In a TV clip released by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Morsi refers in a 2010 interview to "occupiers of Palestine" as "blood suckers and war mongers, and descendants of pigs and apes."
"We must resist them with all forms of resistance. A military resistance in Palestine against these Zionist criminals assaulting the land of Palestine and Palestinians," he says in the remarks to Quds Channel three years ago.
In Wednesday's statement, Morsi "stressed his commitment to the principles he has always insisted on, including full respect for religions, freedom of faith and religious practices, especially the heavenly religions.”
Morsi also "stressed the need to differentiate between Judaism and its adherents from (those who practice) violent actions against Palestinians."
He further "stressed the importance of building a strategic relationship between Egypt and the United States based on mutual respect and shared interests."
On Tuesday, Washington condemned Morsi's remarks and urged him to immediately clarify his views.
"The language that we've seen is deeply offensive," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding "we think that these comments should be repudiated, and they should be repudiated firmly."
Morsi, who was a leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, came to power in June as the Arab nation's first democratically elected president, following the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Nuland said Washington had already raised its concerns about the television clip with Cairo, and stressed again that Congress, which has blocked part of $1 billion in extra US aid, was watching the new Egyptian leadership carefully.
"We completely reject these statements, as we do any language that espouses religious hatred. This kind of rhetoric has been used in this region for far too long," she told journalists. "It's counter to the goals of peace."
"President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths and that this type of rhetoric is not acceptable or productive in a democratic Egypt," added White House spokesman Jay Carney.
The two administration officials stressed, however, that since coming to office, Morsi had reaffirmed Egypt's commitment to the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
He had done so "in both word and deed, and has proven willing to work with us toward shared objectives, including a ceasefire during the crisis in Gaza last year," Carney said.
Washington would judge Morsi by both what he says and what he does, Nuland added.