Before Mursi visit, Germany condemns comments that hurt peace
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has condemned all comments at odds with the goal of Middle East peace ahead of a visit by Egypt's president, whose vitriolic remarks against Jews and Zionists in 2010 when he was a Muslim Brotherhood leader have stirred outrage.
The utterances by Mohamed Mursi, who became Egypt's first freely elected leader in July of last year, were first reported by the New York Times earlier this month. Widely seen as anti-Semitic, the comments were condemned by the United States.
Next week Mursi is due to visit Germany, whose Nazi past and strong support of Israel make it highly sensitive to anti-Semitism. He is due to hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"I will not comment on the remarks that have been attributed to Mr. Mursi," Martin Schaefer, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry, told a news conference on Friday.
"But for the German government it is clear that reducing tensions and working towards a long-term solution is the top priority in the Middle East," he said, adding that this applied to Egypt as well. "Aggressive or hurtful comments from any side are unhelpful."
In a speech in 2010, when Mursi was a leading figure in the opposition Brotherhood, he urged Egyptians to "nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred" for Jews and Zionists.
Months later in a television interview he described Zionists as "these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs". Footage of the remarks has been reviewed by Reuters.
After the remarks became public, Egyptian authorities issued two statements, the first of which said the comments had been taken out of context and stressed Mursi's commitment to full respect for religions and freedom of belief and worship.
The second statement said the Egyptian government rejected "all forms of discrimination and incitement to violence or hostility on the basis of religion".
Schaefer noted that since becoming president, Mursi had made clear that Egypt would fulfill its international obligations, including respecting its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
He also said Mursi's government had played a helpful mediating role late last year in bringing about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
"We are optimistic that Egypt will continue to play a constructive role in the Middle East peace process," Schaefer said. "The talks that the chancellor, foreign minister and other government officials will hold with Mr. Mursi next week are a good opportunity to discuss these themes in a small circle."
Mursi is to meet with Merkel on Wednesday and the two leaders are to hold a joint news conference. The Egyptian president will also attend an investment conference and deliver a speech in the evening.
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