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Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama, defended the administration’s approach this week in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, saying it’s a policy based on American values.

“In Egypt, Libya, Syria and all of the Arab Spring countries in transition, the United States will continue to stand for a set of principles that history shows leads to progress and opportunity,” Mr. McDonough said. “That includes the protection of universal rights, including the freedom of religion. For these transitions to succeed, and for these countries to achieve their full potential, all faiths must be respected and protected.”