White House Clarifies Obama's Egypt 'Ally' Comment

Image from Telemundo

Asked if he considered the current Egyptian government an ally of the United States, President Obama Wednesday balked.

"You know, I don't think that we would consider them an ally but we don't consider them an enemy," he said in an interview with Telemundo . "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."

As The Cable's Josh Rogin points out, in 1989 Egypt was designated by Congress to be a Major Non-NATO Ally along with Australia, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand.) Today the U.S. State department, somewhat awkwardly, re-affirmed that Egypt is an ally.

Asked about the president's comment, White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said: "'Ally' is a legal term of art. We don't have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the President has said, Egypt is long-standing and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt's transition to democracy and working with the new government."

Vietor noted that last night President Obama spoke with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, "to review the strategic partnership between the Unites States and Egypt, while making clear our mutual obligations - including the protection of diplomats and diplomatic facilities."

After that call, Morsi condemned the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic posts in Egypt and Libya at a press conference in Brussels. Quoting the Quran, Morsi said, "whoever kills a soul, it is as if he had slain mankind entirely."

President Obama in his Telemundo interview said that, "So far at least, what we've seen is that in some cases, they've said the right things and taken the right steps - in others, how they've responded to other events may not be aligned with some of our interests so I think it's still a work in progress. But certainly in this situation what we're going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected that our personnel is protected - and if they take actions that indicate they are not taking those responsibilities like all countries do where we have embassies, I think that's going to be a real big problem."

Speaking of work in progress, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted the Muslim Brotherhood twitter feed, alerting the Egyptians that the U.S. was aware that the expressions the Egyptian political party was making in support of the U.S. and against violence were not being matched by the Muslim Brotherhood's twitter feed in Arabic, which was focused on decrying the anti-Muslim "film" that many in the Arab world are using to whip up anti-U.S. sentiment.

Tweeted @USEmbassyCairo : "have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too."

-Jake Tapper