U.S. says Egypt needs to do more on religious tolerance
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday called an Egyptian statement about religious tolerance "a good first step" but said Egypt must do more after vitriolic comments about Zionists made by President Mohamed Mursi in 2010 surfaced.
The comments, made by Mursi when he was a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement, sparked strong condemnation by the U.S. State Department and an explicit demand that he "repudiate" them.
Mursi's comments were reported this week by The New York Times, which said it had obtained video of a 2010 speech in which he urged Egyptians to "nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred" for Jews and Zionists.
In a TV interview that the paper said he made months later and that Reuters viewed on YouTube, Mursi described Zionists as "these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs."
Egyptian authorities subsequently issued two statements, the first of which said the comments were taken out of context, but stressed Mursi's commitment to full respect for religions and freedom of belief and worship.
The second statement said the Egyptian government rejects "all forms of discrimination and incitement to violence or hostility on the basis of religion."
The second statement appeared to have gone some way toward mollifying the United States but there were lingering concerns.
"That statement was an important first step to make clear that the type of offensive rhetoric that we saw in 2010 is not acceptable, not productive, and shouldn't be part of a democratic Egypt," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
"That said, we look to President Mursi and Egyptian leaders to demonstrate in both word and indeed their commitment to religious tolerance and to upholding all of Egypt's international obligations," she added.
"We consider this a good first step," she said. "They need to keep moving."
In mentioning its international obligations, Nuland appeared to be referring to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel in 1979, which made it the first Arab state to make peace with Israel and leading to what is now $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.
Mursi's comments appeared at odds with the diplomatic, moderate image the Islamist leader has sought to convey since taking office last year and may stir unease among Egypt's Western allies whose aid he needs to weather a financial crisis.
The United States, which was a staunch ally of Egypt's former leader, Hosni Mubarak, until he was overthrown in 2011, is now trying to build a dependable relationship with Mursi.
Earlier this week, the State Department said it had told Egypt authorities that his comments were sure to be of concern in the U.S. Congress, which the Obama administration trying to persuade to give economic support to Egypt.
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