WASHINGTON // The Obama administration yesterday gave a blistering review of remarks that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi made almost three years ago about Jews and called for him to repudiate what it called unacceptable rhetoric.
The White House and State Department said Mr Morsi's statements were "deeply offensive" and ran counter to the goal of peace in the region. The State Department, noting that a senior congressional delegation is now visiting Egypt, said the remarks complicated efforts to provide economic and military aid to Egypt.
"We believe that President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths and that this type of rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic Egypt," the White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Mr Morsi was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood in 2010 when, according to video broadcast last week on Egyptian television he asked Egyptians to "nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred". Months later, in a television interview, Mr Morsi referred to Zionists as bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians, describing Zionists as "the descendants of apes and pigs".
"We completely reject these statements as we do any language that espouses religious hatred," the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "This kind of rhetoric has been used in this region for far too long. It's counter to the goals of peace."
A group of senators, including John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Christopher Coons, is in Cairo. Ms Nuland said she expected they would make their views known to Egypt's leadership.
Mr Morsi's remarks and the Obama administration's rebuke marked a new point of tension in the complex relationship between the US and Egypt's fledgling democracy.
Since being elected in June in the aftermath of the revolution that removed the former president Hosni Mubarak, Mr Morsi has promised to abide by Egypt's decades-old peace treaty with Israel. Mr Morsi was also instrumental in facilitating a cease-fire in November between Israel and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, despite his refusal to speak directly with Israeli officials.
The White House and State Department did acknowledge Mr Morsi's willingness during that crisis to work with the US towards mutual goals, and said Egypt's continuing commitment to its peace treaty with Israel is essential for US relations with Egypt.
Egypt receives more than $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) a year in military and development aid from the US as part of a package linked to its historic 1979 peace deal with Israel. The peace accord is a cornerstone of US Middle East policy.
Ms Nuland said Mr Morsi's actions as president in support of the peace treaty with Israel are laudable but only one part of picture.
"We will judge him by what he does," she said. "What he has been doing is supporting that peace treaty, continuing to work with us, and with Israel on common goals, including in Gaza. But we'll also judge him but what he says. And we think that these comments should be repudiated and they should be repudiated firmly."
A Muslim Brotherhood official in Egypt refused to comment on Washington's reaction to Morsi's remarks.