Egypt not an ally, but also not an enemy, Obama says in wake of violent anti-US protests

US president says Egyptian government trying to ‘find its way’; Clinton calls controversial film ‘reprehensible’

US President Barack Obama (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
US President Barack Obama (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

AP — President Barack Obama said Thursday the US did not consider Egypt an ally, “but we don’t consider them an enemy.”

Obama said in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo that Egypt is a “new government that is trying to find its way.” And he warned that if the Egyptian government takes actions showing “they’re not taking responsibility,” then it would “be a real big problem.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sharpened her criticism of the anti-Islam video that has provoked protests in the Arab world.

Clinton said the film was “disgusting and reprehensible,” calling it a cynical attempt to offend people for their religious beliefs. She added that the US was monitoring protests in Yemen and elsewhere, urging countries to take steps to prevent protests escalating into violence.

Clinton said that the US would never stop Americans from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful. And she said the film was no justification for violence or attacks on US diplomatic facilities and personnel.

Earlier on Thursday, protesters angered by an anti-Islam film stormed the US Embassy compound in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. They were on the embassy’s grounds but did not enter the building housing the offices. Demonstrators removed the embassy’s sign on the outer wall and set tires ablaze. Once inside the compound, they brought down the US flag and burned it.

Yemen is home to al-Qaida’s most active branch and the United States is the main foreign supporter of the Yemeni government’s counterterrorism campaign. The government on Tuesday announced that al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader in Yemen was killed in an apparent US airstrike, a major blow to the terror network.

A senior administration official here said the protests in Yemen appeared to be motivated by the film seen by Muslims of disparaging the Prophet Muhammad. This is an observation that Obama officials did not make regarding the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Another official, also speaking anonymously, said “the situation in Yemen is fluid. We’re receiving cooperation from Yemeni authorities to help us maintain order and protect our people. The protests appear to be motivated by the film.” The officials spoke only on grounds of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the situation amid rapidly unfolding events.

US officials, working with the Libyan government, were examining whether the armed assault on the consulate in Libya was a planned and deliberate terrorist strike, and not the spontaneous reaction to the anti-Islam video.

In a statement, the Yemeni embassy in Washington condemned the attack on the Sana’a compound.

“Given recent regional events, earlier this morning, angry protesters have unfortunately flooded the security perimeter of the US embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and breached the embassy’s wall,” the statement said. “Security services have quickly restored order to the Embassy’s complex. Fortunately no casualties were reported from this chaotic incident. The government of Yemen will honor international obligations to ensure the safety of diplomats and will step up security presence around all foreign missions.”

The White House said that Obama called the presidents of Libya and Egypt and urged them to continue working with the United States to ensure the safety of diplomatic personnel. He thanked Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf for his condolences over the deaths of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department officers during an assault on the US consulate in Benghazi Tuesday. The White House says the two leaders agreed to work together to bring the attackers to justice.

During a second call, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi promised that Egypt “would honor its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel,” the White House said.

Obama told Morsi that while “he rejects efforts to denigrate Islam … there is never any justification for violence against innocents.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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