CAIRO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Sunday he "wished" three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists including an Australian had not been put on trial, conceding the case had been damaging, a newspaper reported.
The journalists -- Australia's Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed -- were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail for allegedly defaming Egypt and aiding banned Islamists, in a ruling that sparked a global outcry and demands for a presidential pardon.
The June 23 sentencing had had a "very negative effect," Sisi conceded to Egyptian editors during a roundtable, according to the mass circulation daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
"The sentencing of several journalists had a very negative effect, and we had nothing to do with it," he was quoted as saying.
"I wish they were deported after their arrest, instead of being put on trial," he added, apparently referring to Greste, the sole non-Egyptian.
The sentencing, a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the newly-elected Sisi in a show of support, was seen as deeply embarrassing for America's top diplomat.
Washington described the sentencing of the journalists as "draconian" and called on Sisi to release them, while the United Nations said imprisoning them was "obscene."
Former army chief Sisi, who won elections last May, a year after overthrowing Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, had said he would not interfere with Egypt's courts, which the government says are independent.
But in the meeting with newspaper editors, Sisi appeared to regret the blow back from the trial, whereas he had previously declined to comment on court rulings.
The trial against the journalists of the Doha-based satellite television came against the backdrop of strained relations between Egypt and Qatar, which supports the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed president Morsi.