State Department corrects Obama, says Egypt is an ally

The State Department, cutting through the confusion over President Obama's claim that Egypt is not a U.S. ally, contradicted his characterization Thursday.

For the record, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, Egypt is considered a major non-NATO ally.

The comment came as White House aides also carefully clarified the president's remarks.

The president made the initial statement in an interview with the Spanish-language Telemundo. "I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we do not consider them an enemy," Obama said, reacting to the ongoing and intense demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

The comment raised eyebrows, considering that Egypt - at least before the fall of Hosni Mubarak -- has long been among the top U.S. allies in the Middle East along with Saudi Arabia and Israel. And legally, it is still considered a major "non-NATO" ally, as Nuland confirmed.

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Nuland and White House aides, though, tried to at the same time suggest that Obama was referring to the fact that Egypt is not part of any formal NATO treaty.

"'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," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the same, claiming Obama was referring to the lack of an alliance treaty with Egypt. But they made clear that Egypt is a major partner, noting that Obama spoke Wednesday with President Mohammad Morsi

Not everyone was in the same page, though.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday would not go so far as to say Egypt is or will be a U.S. ally. "We'll see," she said.
Pelosi's comment and Obama's original comment indeed reflected concern about the direction of Egypt's post-Mubarak government, heavy with the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

Some have complained that Morsi has not cracked down hard enough on the demonstrators who two days ago breached the wall of the U.S. Embassy and continue to gather in large numbers outside the perimeter. They are purportedly angry over an anti-Islam film.

While condemning attacks on the embassies Thursday, Morsi reportedly said the Egyptian people need "breathing room." And he said he had called on Obama to "put an end to such behavior" like the anti-Islam film.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to explain Thursday that the U.S. government cannot prevent the airing of videos, even if they are offensive, because of America's constitutional free-speech protections.