The Obama administration on Tuesday gave a blistering review of remarks that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made almost three years ago about Jews and called for him to repudiate what it called unacceptable rhetoric.
In blunt comments, the White House and State Department said Morsi's statements were "deeply offensive" and ran counter to the goal of peace in the region. The State Department, noting that a senior congressional delegation is now visiting Egypt, said the remarks complicated efforts to provide economic and military aid to Egypt.
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"We believe that President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths and that this type of rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic Egypt," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Morsi was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood in 2010 when, according to video broadcast last week on Egyptian television he asked Egyptians to "nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred."
Months later, in a television interview, Morsi referred to Zionists as bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians, describing Zionists as "the descendants of apes and pigs."
Morsi in 2010
"We completely reject these statements as we do any language that espouses religious hatred," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "This kind of rhetoric has been used in this region for far too long. It's counter to the goals of peace."
A group of senators, both Republicans and Democrats, is currently in Cairo. Nuland said she expected they would make their views known to Egypt's leadership.
Perserving the peace
Morsi's remarks and the Obama administration's rebuke marked a new point of tension in the complex relationship between the US and Egypt's fledgling democracy.
Egypt receives more than $1 billion a year in development and military aid from the US as part of a package linked to its historic 1979 peace deal with Israel. The peace accord is a cornerstone of US Mideast policy.
Nuland said Morsi's actions as president in support of the peace treaty with Israel are laudable but only one part of picture.
"We will judge him by what he does," she said. "What he has been doing is supporting that peace treaty, continuing to work with us, and with Israel on common goals, including in Gaza. But we'll also judge him but what he says. And we think that these comments should be repudiated and they should be repudiated firmly."
An official in Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak public about an issue of such sensitivity, said the comments were a "big concern" but that Israel did not want to fuel tensions with Egypt.
The silence reflected the deep sensitivity of the issue for Morsi and the Brotherhood, which is fiercely anti-Israeli and anti-US.
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