White House: Safety of diplomats in Egypt ‘top priority’ amid protests

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes on Sunday said the administration was taking “appropriate action” to ensure the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel and facilities in Egypt amid mounting anti-government protests, calling it a “top priority.”

A major demonstration against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is planned for Sunday, following clashes between pro-and anti-government groups.

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“We’ve basically taken the appropriate action to ensure that our embassies and consulates have additional security measures and that our personnel are taking additional security precautions,” said Rhodes, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One in South Africa where he is traveling with the president.

Rhodes said U.S. officials have also reached out to contacts in Egypt’s government and with the opposition, encouraging both sides to avoid violence. 

“We’ve also focused on our desire for there to be a peaceful resolution of differences in Egypt, respect for both peaceful protests, also the obligation of the opposition to protest peacefully,” said Rhodes. “We’ve also been in touch with the opposition as well through our contacts. 

Rhodes denied reports on Saturday suggesting the U.S. was deploying military resources to protect Americans in Egypt.

“We believe we have significant security measures in place and that our civilians who are serving in Egypt can take additional precautions,” he said.

The protests have already claimed one American citizen, Andrew Pochter, who was killed during a demonstration in Alexandria.

Rhodes called the death a “tragic case” and said it was “particularly painful to lose a young person.” 

He said Obama had learned of the Pochter’s death. 

“The President is certainly aware of the loss of that American and shares in the grief that the family has,” said Rhodes. 

On Saturday, President Obama urged security forces in Egypt to show restraint when responding to the protests and called on Morsi to continue the country’s democratization. 

“We would like to see the opposition and President Morsi engage in a more constructive conversation about how they move their country forward because nobody is benefiting from the current stalemate that exists there,” said Obama at a joint press conference with South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria.