President Obama turned his top spokesman into a verbal contortionist on Thursday.
To clarify the president’s remarks that Egypt is neither America’s ally or enemy, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters:
“‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We do not have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, like we do, for example, with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is a long-standing and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation in supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”
Carney didn’t mention that according to a 1989 treaty, Egypt is considered a non-NATO ally
, along with Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea.
Obama made the comments about Egypt during a Telemundo interview on Wednesday after an emotional day in which the administration and the nation faced the death of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
The president told Telemundo:
“You know, I don’t think that we would consider them an ally but we don’t consider them an enemy. They are a new government trying to find its way, they were democratically elected. I think we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, to see how they respond to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel.”
According to Foreign Affairs
, the remarks about Egypt were not prepared in advance and the president hadn’t expected a question about it.
The Obama administration is frustrated with Egypt’s response to demonstrations over an Internet video that’s sparked violent demonstrations across the Middle East.
To underscore that frustration, the president had a 20-minute phone call with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in which he warned Morsi that relations between the two nations could be jeopardized if Americans are not protected, according to a report in The New York Times
. On Friday, Morsi spoke out against the attacks, going on state TV to urge Muslims to protect foreign embassies.
David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, suggested in a Daily Beast
column on Friday that the “ally” gaffe by President Obama was, in fact, a shrewd foreign policy move to motivate Morsi to act.