By Julian Pecquet
President Obama should be "direct and unambiguous" when he meets with Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said Tuesday.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), one of the leading critics of radical Islam in Congress, said he's had "real concerns" about Mohammed Morsi since before the Muslim Brotherhood candidate won Egypt's first-ever free presidential election last month. The comments underscore the tight line the administration is walking as it seeks to bolster the democratically elected leader while urging him to respect religious rights and the country's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
"The president must make it clear that the United States is not going to engage in any kind of politically correct game with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and will not even begin to consider pro-Islamist and insulting proposals," King said in a statement.
The comments come after Egyptian officials said over the weekend that Obama had "extended an invitation" to Morsi to visit the United States in September. White House spokesman Jay Carney downplayed the meeting's importance on Monday, calling it a mere "encounter."
"Well, the president will be going to UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly, in September, and he will, I'm sure, encounter a number of leaders ― after all, that's a gathering of world leaders ― including the new Egyptian president there," Carney said at his press briefing. "There are no planned bilateral meetings in Washington around UNGA with any leader."
Some lawmakers argue that the United States should link its $1.3 billion in annual military aid to human rights and good relations with Israel.
King said Morsi's statement after his election calling for the release on humanitarian grounds of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh" imprisoned in the United States after inspiring the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was a "disgraceful" way to kick off his presidency. He called on Obama to "make that point emphatically."
"Morsi may say that he is not an extremist and wants to maintain a friendly relationship with the United States, but such statements raise serious concerns as to how his policies will actually develop," King said. "Morsi's words thus far raise very critical doubts as to whether we can expect real cooperation from Egypt on security matters and whether he will in fact honor the letter and the spirit of Egypt's treaty obligations with Israel."