WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama said late Wednesday that Egypt was neither an ally nor an enemy, and that determining the relationship between Washington and Cairo would depend in part on the latter’s adherence to the peace treaty with Israel.

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way,” Obama told Telemundo (a Spanish-language US television network) in an interview the day after anti- American riots broke out in Egypt and Libya, leaving four US diplomats in Benghazi dead.

“We are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, how they respond to, for example, maintaining the peace treaty with Israel,” he explained.

Obama indicated it would be a “real big problem” if the new government in Cairo didn’t adhere to responsibilities such as ensuring that the US Embassy is secure, but said that as a brand-new democracy, Egypt would need time to develop many basic institutions, and that the US understood there would be “some rocky times.”

Despite Obama’s comments to Telemundo, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that “Egypt is a longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government,” referring to the term “ally” as “a legal term of art.”

Carney also said that at this time the US had no intention of changing its aid to Egypt.

Obama spoke to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy by phone Wednesday night and expressed the American interest “in a relationship based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” according to a statement put out by the White House.

He stressed the importance of Egypt securing US diplomatic facilities and personnel, and also that he rejected “efforts to denigrate Islam.”

At the same time, the statement said, Obama “underscored that there is never any justification for violence against innocents and acts that endanger American personnel and facilities.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton specifically referred to the anti-Islam video fingered for triggering the riots as “disgusting and reprehensible” during a press availability with Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Eddine al-Othmani on Thursday.

She described it as designed “to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”

Clinton also pointed out that the United States was in no way connected to the video and that “we absolutely reject its content and message.” But, she added, “There is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence.”

Clinton noted that US law did not “stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be,” and that however offensive one’s view were, “there should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence in response to speech is not acceptable.”

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