WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama offered a warm personal tribute to Hillary Clinton's close aide Huma Abedin, who some conservative Republicans claim has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama used the occasion of a dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to pour praise on his "good friend" Abedin, a Muslim American, in a highly public and strong statement of presidential support.
He said Abedin, who has been at Clinton's side in the White House, the Senate, her 2008 Democratic campaign against Obama and in her globe-trotting travels at the State Department, had worked tirelessly to represent the United States.
Clinton, now Obama's top diplomat, has relied on Abedin's expertise and "so have I," the president added.
"The American people owe her a debt of gratitude -- because Huma is an American patriot, and an example of what we need in this country -- more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit.
"So, on behalf of all Americans, we thank you so much," Obama told Abedin, at an iftar dinner marking the end of Ramadan's daily fast, in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Abedin has been the target of a small group of Republican lawmakers, including former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who have alleged she is part of a Brotherhood conspiracy to influence US foreign policy.
She has won bipartisan support. Republican Senator John McCain spoke strongly in her defense, saying she was a devoted public servant full of "decency, warmth and good humor."
Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1976 but moved with her family to Saudi Arabia when she was two. Her father was born in India under British rule and her mother is Pakistani.
"Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit," McCain said.
Members of Congress, including Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann, wrote a letter to the deputy inspector general of the State Department alleging the conspiracy and demanding a probe.
Abedin came under the spotlight last year when her husband, New York congressman Anthony Weiner, resigned after sending lewd online messages and photographs on his cell phone and then lying about it.
The Muslim Brotherhood is an Muslim political movement founded in Egypt in 1928 and a staunch opponent of several Middle East governments that enjoyed US backing, notably Israel and the formerly secular regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.