WASHINGTON (AP) — This week's storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by an angry mob has sent U.S.-Egyptian relations to a new low, prompting President Barack Obama to say he doesn't see the two countries as allies.
But under U.S. law, they are.
Asked about Egypt in an interview late Wednesday with the Spanish-language network Telemundo, Obama said: "I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy."
The statement marks an abrupt change from decades when Washington and Cairo were ironclad partners in fighting terrorism, countering Iran's influence in the region and promoting Arab-Israeli peace.
Even after last year's revolution that toppled longtime Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, U.S. officials never suggested they were downgrading the relationship.
In fact, the Obama administration has continued with some $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Egypt each year and gone to great lengths to ensure that the country's new Islamist government respects its longstanding peace treaty with Israel.
And while Obama may think Egypt isn't acting like an ally right now, by U.S. designation it remains one.
The United States designated Egypt as one of the six original "major non-NATO allies" in the 1980s. The status is now enjoyed by 15 U.S. "allies" in total, including Israel, Japan, Australia and South Korea.
Non-NATO allies are granted streamlined defense cooperation, making it easier for them to buy American military equipment and satisfy U.S. export control regulations.
Asked about Egypt's status, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed Thursday that the administration still considers it a major non-NATO ally of the United States.