Associated Press reporter Matt Lee challenged State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki to say explicitly that the U.S. urged Egypt to release President Mohamed Morsi, but Psaki would not oblige, telling him she would not “play this game” and wondering if he simply liked the sound of her voice.
As recently as Friday, Psaki called for Morsi’s release and called his detention “politically motivated.” However, Lee noted Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the highest-level American official to visit Egypt since Morsi’s ouster by the Egyptian military July 3, also avoided saying Morsi’s name while speaking with media on Monday:
LEE: You still are calling for him to be released.
PSAKI: Our position’s the same.
LEE: Can you say that? We urge the authorities of Egypt to —
PSAKI: I think our position is pretty clear and the same, and from the beginning we’ve expressed concerns about the politically motivated detentions.
LEE: Including of President Morsi?
LEE: Can you say that?
PSAKI: I think I just said it, Matt. I don’t think we need to play this game.
LEE: Can you use his name, please? Because Deputy Secretary Burns was very careful not to mention his name, and so I would like to know, can you just say if your position is the same as last week when you said we think that he should be released, can you say the same thing today?
PSAKI: Do you just enjoy the sound of my voice?
LEE: I do.
LEE: I do. This is a serious question. I realize —
REPORTER: Well she didn’t say it last week. She just nodded and said yes.
LEE: Can I just finish. Can you say, from the podium —
PSAKI: The question last week was, Do we agree with the call of the Germans and I said, ‘Yes.’ Our position is the same.
LEE: Why can you not say —
PSAKI: Matt, I’m not playing this game. Dana?
The Washington Post reported Monday that Burns was rebuffed by Morsi’s opponents during his visit. The Salafists joined the secular Tamarod movement’s calls for Morsi to step down, and both parties have accused the United States of backing the Muslim Brotherhood against its opponents during Morsi’s year-long tenure. But the refusal of the U.S. to label Morsi’s ouster a coup has also offended the Brotherhood:
Brotherhood spokesman Gehad Haddad said the organization had not been invited to meet Burns and had not sought an invitation.
Burns’s visit came as tensions mounted on the streets of the Cairo, where Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters are pledging to hold the latest in a series of big nighttime demonstrations aimed at pressuring the military to restore Morsi to the presidency.
Speaking to a small number of reporters at the U.S. Embassy on Monday, Burns signaled Washington’s readiness to stand with Egypt’s new interim leaders, even as an uncomfortable debate continues on Capitol Hill over whether to label the military’s ouster of Morsi a coup.
Burns called the country’s transition “a second chance” to achieve the democratic ideals of the country’s 2011 uprising. His language seemed to underscore a shift by the Obama administration in the past two weeks, from warning against the movement to unseat a democratically elected president to throwing its weight behind the backers of Egypt’s coup.
“The United States is firmly committed to helping Egypt succeed in this second chance to realize the promise of the revolution,” Burns said. “I am not naïve. I know that many Egyptians have doubts about the United States, and I know that there will be nothing neat or easy about the road ahead.”