Officials said Thursday that President Obama doesn't intend to downgrade Egypt, which gets $1.5 billion a year in U.S. aid. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
LAS VEGAS – President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that while he does not believe Egypt is an ally of the United States, he also doesn't consider the country an enemy.
“I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident,” Obama said in an interview with Telemundo anchor José Diaz-Balart, host of Noticiero Telemundo. He was referring to Tuesday’s protests in Egypt, during which demonstrators, angered by a movie trailer parodying Prophet Muhammad, breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
The president continued: "Certainly in this situation, what we're going to expect is that (the Egyptian government is) responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected, and if they take actions that they’re not taking those responsibilities, as all countries do where we have embassies, I think that’s going to be a real big problem.”
The Rachel Maddow Show includes segments of an interview with President Barack Obama with Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart about the U.S. response to the attacks on American missions in Egypt and Libya Tuesday.
Obama’s strong words could mark a dramatic shift in the U.S.’s relationship with Egypt, which has been consistently pro-American since the late president Anwar Sadat. The country has maintained a peace accord with Israel since the 1979 Camp David Accords and since 1982 has received $1.3 billion in military and development aid from the U.S, according to the State Department.
How the recent election of President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, will – or already has – affected the relationship between the two countries is still unclear. Morsi was Egypt’s first-ever democratically-elected president.
In the Telemundo interview Wednesday night, Obama also discussed the ambush on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, calling the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya "heartbreaking" and repeated his call to bring those responsible to justice.
But when asked by Diaz-Balart whether it was time to "reconsider foreign aid" to Egypt and Libya, Obama said the U.S. “doesn't have an option of withdrawing from the world ... we're the one indispensable nation."
"Libya ... is a government that is very friendly towards us,” Obama continued. “The vast majority of Libyans welcomed the United States' involvement. They understand that it's because of us that they got rid of a dictator who had crushed their spirits for 40 years."
Moammar Gadhafi, who had ruled the country since 1969, was overthrown in August 2011 during the Libyan Civil War triggered by the Arab Spring revolutions.
Earlier Wednesday, Libyan leader Mohammed Magarief took to the airwaves to condemn the killings and to apologize to the U.S.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed after protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad stormed the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
President Obama expressed confidence that the Libyan government would help the U.S. in finding those who were responsible for yesterday's violence: "Our hope is to be able to capture them ... but we're going to have to obviously cooperate with the Libyan government. And you know, I have confidence that we will stay on this relentlessly, because Chris Stevens, he's somebody who actually advised me and Secretary Clinton during the original Libyan uprising. He was somebody who Libyans recognized as being on the side of the people. And we're going get help. We're going to get cooperation on this."
Responding to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s statements that Obama’s initial response was disgraceful, Obama said: “As president, my obligation is to focus on security for our people, making sure that we gather all the facts, making sure that we're advancing American interests. And not having ideological arguments on a day when we are mourning the loss of outstanding folks who have served our country very well.”