Mohammed Morsi urged the United States to change its approach towards the Arab world and face up to its "responsibility" to help build a Palestinian state, in a rare interview given to the New York Times on the eve of his first trip to the US as Egypt's new president.
Egypt’s first democratically elected leader told the newspaper that it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt. To do so, the US it must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values.
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And if Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, he said, Washington should live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule; he argued that Americans "have a special responsibility" for the Palestinians because the US had signed the 1978 Camp David accord, an agreement that called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza to make way for full Palestinian sovereignty.
"As long as peace and justice are not fulfilled for the Palestinians, then the treaty remains unfulfilled," the president said.
Mohammed Morsi (Photo: Reuters)
Morsi, who will travel to New York on Sunday for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, said that the disdain shown towards the US by people in the Arab world stemmed from the American backing for dictatorial governments and support for Israel over the Palestinians.
The president's trip comes at a delicate time for the ties between the two countries. He sought a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, but received a cool reception. In the aftermath of the recent riot at the US embassy in Cairo, Obama said that Egypt is neither an enemy nor an ally to the US.
When asked if he considered the US an ally, Morsi told the NYT that "it depends on your definition of ally," echoing Obama's statement. But he said he envisioned the two nations as "real friends."
Riots near US embassy in Cairo (Photo: AFP)
Morsi dismissed criticism from the White House that he did not move fast enough to condemn protesters who climbed over the US embassy wall and burned the American flag in anger over a video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.
“We took our time” in responding to avoid an explosive backlash, he said, but then dealt “decisively” with the small, violent element among the demonstrators.
"We can never condone this kind of violence, but we need to deal with the situation wisely," he said, noting that the embassy employees were never in danger.
Iran's vital role in Syria
Also on Saturday, Morsi told Egyptian state television – in his first interview since coming to power – that Iran plays an important role in the Middle East and could be a vital force in bringing the civil war in Syria to an end.
Morsi with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Photo: EPA)
He has launched an "Islamic Quartet" of regional powers to seek an end to the violence, bringing together Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
However, the quartet faces deep divisions. Sunni led Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, while Shiite Iran firmly backs him. Saudi Arabia and Iran are also bitter rivals with longstanding disagreements over Gulf security issues.
"I do not believe Iran's presence in the group is part of the problem, but part of the solution" Morsi said, adding that he hopes the four nations along with other countries can meet "at the highest level" on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting later this month.
While he did not discuss Israel, Morsi said that "there cannot be peace in the Middle East without giving Palestinians their full rights."
"Egyptians are always and will always be supportive of their Palestinian brothers, all Palestinians," he said. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood group, which Moris has previously led..
Roi Kais and AP contributed to the report
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