US calls Egypt presidential debate ‘healthy,’ confirms neutrality toward candidates

The United States on Friday welcomed Egypt's televised presidential debate as a "good and healthy thing," while implicitly urging the candidates to respect the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief, squared off with Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abuoel Fotouh for nearly four hours late into the night on Thursday.

"It's a good and healthy thing that they're having a debate," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

The candidates clashed on health, employment and education as well as how big a role Islam should play in Egyptian politics or whether a former member of the government of overthrown leader Hosni Mubarak should become president.

The two also debated foreign policy, and both agreed the country's 1979 peace treaty with Israel had to be revised though not annulled.

Abouel Fotouh, who used to organize aid convoys to the Palestinian Gaza Strip, said he considered Israel "an enemy" while Moussa said Egypt has "disputes" with the Jewish state over its treatment of Palestinians.

"We're not going to get into the back and forth of what's happening in a campaign," Nuland said when asked to react to the criticism of Israel.

"People say things in a campaign and then when they get elected they actually have to govern," Nuland said.

"We've made absolutely clear where we are on these elections.

"We want to see free, fair, transparent elections, and we want to see whomever is elected represent the best interests of all Egyptians, the human rights, democracy, constitutional rights of all Egyptians," she said.

"As we have said to all of the candidates that we've spoken with, we believe that it is in the best interest of Egypt to maintain its existing arrangements and regional responsibilities with neighbors," she added, alluding to the peace treaty.

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