World News

Obama: Egypt neither enemy nor ally

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States does not consider Egypt’s Islamist-led government an ally or an enemy, President Barack Obama said in a television interview.

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” Obama told Telemundo, a Spanish-language network, on Wednesday after mobs of demonstrators angry over a film they consider blasphemous to Islam assaulted the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

He said the newly formed Egyptian government, which was democratically elected, is trying “to find its way.”

If government officials take actions showing “they’re not taking responsibility,” then it would “be a real big problem,” the president said in the interview, which aired in full on Thursday.

The attack on the embassy in Cairo coincided with attacks on a U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi that led to the killing of four U.S. diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador.

Obama’s comments reflected U.S. wariness over Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi - who took office in June after the country’s first free elections - in the aftermath of the Cairo embassy assault.

Later Thursday, the Obama administration attempted to clarify the president’s comments on the U.S.’s relationship with Egypt.

“‘Ally’ is a legal term of art,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling with Obama in Colorado.

“The president, in diplomatic and legal terms, was speaking correctly, that we do not have an alliance treaty with Egypt,” he added.

The United States was a close ally of Egypt under ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak and gives $1.3 billion in military aid a year to Egypt plus other assistance.

Obama ultimately called for Mubarak to step down as he faced mass protests in early 2011. But the U.S. president was criticized for taking too long to assert American influence.

On Thursday, the White House said Obama had spoken with the presidents of Egypt and Libya to discuss the violence against U.S. diplomatic compounds.

Obama, in his call to Mursi, said Egypt “must cooperate with the United States in securing U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel,” the White House said.

Reporting By Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Xavier Briand and Stacey Joyce