By Julian Pecquet - 07/09/12 07:01 PM EDT
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday downplayed reports that President Obama has invited Egypt's new leader to meet with him, highlighting the political sensitivities surrounding the administration's outreach to the Islamist leader.
In one of the more awkward moments of his daily briefing with reporters, Carney portrayed Obama's expected meeting with Mohammed Morsi, during the United Nations General Assembly, as nothing special.
The exchange was sparked by reports of Egyptian officials boasting that Obama had “invited” Morsi to the United States.
Carney went on to say that the president “looks forward to meeting the new president of Egypt at UNGA. They have not met and they will both be participating at the U.N. General Assembly. That is really the only issue here in terms of the reports.”
Asked to elaborate if the two leaders will have a “one-on-one,” Carney said no.
“There's nothing scheduled like that,” he said. “It's just they will meet, encounter each other.”
The Egyptian leader's visit to the United States was first reported by Reuters. “President Obama extended an invitation to President Morsi to visit the United States when he attends the U.N. General Assembly in September," Egyptian aide Yasser Ali reportedly said after a meeting Sunday with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
Morsi is a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, a group with a violent past, and inviting him could raise concerns among lawmakers who have questioned continued U.S. support for Egypt, including $1.3 billion in annual military aid. Some GOP lawmakers have called on the administration to reconsider foreign aid to Egypt and denounce the election of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate.
“The Arab Spring is nothing more than a radical Islamic nightmare,” said GOP Rep. Allen West (Fla.) in a message posted on his Facebook page last month.
The Obama administration for its part has taken steps to reach out to Morsi, arguing he is committed to the Arab Spring revolution and will respect the results of democratic elections. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet Morsi on Saturday.