A couple months ago, I suggested that relations with Egypt might become a campaign issue, particularly with the U.S. visit of the country’s newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sure enough, a conservative group Let Freedom Ring is airing an ad in key swing states hammering President Obama by suggesting that he’s soft on the Muslim Brotherhood. The ad emphasizes the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-Israel stance.
The ad raps Obama for continuing U.S. aid to Egypt even after the Brotherhood’s rise to power. But cutting off U.S. aid to Egypt is not a step that Republican nominee Mitt Romney has called for either. (Romney has said that U.S. aid should be conditioned upon Egypt upholding its treaty with Israel, safeguarding the rights of minorities and protecting foreign embassies.)
In the wake of the recent storming of the U.S. embassy grounds in Cairo, Obama staked out a tough rhetorical line on Egypt. “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” President Obama said in an interview with Telemundo. “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, our personnel is protected.”
In a recent interview with ABC News, Romney declined to endorse Obama’s characterization, instead stressing the importance of Egypt remaining a U.S. ally. Romney called for bringing Egypt “closer to us” and establishing relationships with the country’s people and government.
Here’s the transcript of the Egypt portion of Romney’s interview:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How about on a broader policy in the Middle East? The president said last night that Egypt is not an ally. Do you agree? And what would you do about it?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, that’s obviously not a reflection of our official policy. American official policy is that Egypt is an ally of the United States. Of course, we recognize that Egypt has gone through a dramatic change in government. And what their status will be going forward in terms of the relationship with our nation is something which which I’m sure will be developing over time.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What would you do?
MITT ROMNEY: That being said, I would like to bring Egypt closer to us. I think it’s important for them to understand that it’s an advantage to have a close relationship with the United States, to be an ally of the United States. And for that to continue, Egypt must honor their agreement with Israel, for peace with Israel. Egypt must also respect the rights of minorities in their nation. And Egypt must also protect the lives and sovereignty of our embassy and of our installations in Egypt. This is– these elements are all essential for us to have the kind of–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But right now–
MITT ROMNEY: –relationship we’ve had.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: –you believe they– excuse me. Right now, you believe they are an ally?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, right now, officially, Egypt is an ally of the United States, under the policy of the United States. The president’s saying they are not may reflect the fact that there’s been a change in government and a change in relationship as a result of that. But they are today, officially, an ally of the United States.
And George, this nation has a population of 80 million people. This is the heart of the Arab world. It’s important for us to establish relationships with the people there, with the government there, to draw them into a sphere of influence such that they– they’re a peaceable nation, that they encourage peace in the region.
Our relationship with Egypt is very, very important. And I would want them to remain an ally. I don’t want to see that official status change. And I hope the president takes the steps for that to occur. And if I were president, I would do virtually everything in my power to make sure they understand what the requirements are to remain an ally of the United States, and to help them understand how important it is for them to be an ally of ours-
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk ab—
MITT ROMNEY: –and the West.