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September surprise: Will Morsi’s U.S. visit become an election issue?

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Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, is apparently planning to visit the United States in September.

AFP reports:

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first civilian and Islamist head of state, will visit the United States on September 23, state media reported on Wednesday.

The official MENA news agency quoted Morsi’s spokesman Yassir Ali as saying the president will attend a United Nations General Assembly session in New York and then head to Washington to meet "senior officials" during a three-day trip.

But Ali told AFP a meeting with US President Barack Obama "is not yet confirmed."

Formulating U.S. policy toward Egypt’s democratically elected president involves profound challenges, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-Western and anti-Israel bent. Morsi’s quick — many would say alarming — consolidation of his control over the levers of power only makes matters more difficult.

And while diplomacy toward Egypt already requires a delicate balancing act, a Morsi visit only weeks before a U.S. presidential election is also politically fraught for the Obama administration.

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The administration’s approach to post-revolution Egypt has been criticized by many conservatives as soft on the Brotherhood, with some even accusing the administration of throwing U.S.-allied autocrat Hosni Mubarak under the bus. And a few conservative members of Congress, of course, drew headlines (and rebukes from some Republican colleagues) by insinuating that the Brotherhood had infiltrated the U.S. government.

Such murmurs of discontent, however, haven’t quite added up to a full-throated chorus, perhaps in part because other conservatives — most notably John McCain — are more focused on criticizing the administration for not doing enough to aid the Syrian opposition, which includes significant Muslim Brotherhood elements.

Still, it’s safe to say that Obama’s critics will be watching closely to see what sort of reception Morsi receives from the administration. Morsi’s visit could even mark the emergence of U.S.-Egypt relations as a surprise issue in this year’s presidential election.

UPDATE: Elliott Abrams is one conservative who has simultaneously been critical of the Obama administration’s approach to Morsi and assailed in the strongest terms what he sees as insufficient support for the Syrian opposition. Yet he also acknowledges that there is a danger of the Muslim Brotherhood rising to power in Syria. (He also criticizes both the Bush administration — for which he worked — and the Obama administration for their stances toward Hosni Mubarak.)

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