Obama cancels U.S. military exercise with Egypt in wake of violence
CHILMARK, Mass. -- President Obama on Thursday canceled a joint military exercise with Egypt in the wake of a violent crackdown on civilians by Egyptian security forces.
Obama, who met Thursday morning with his national security team, said he is also ordering a review of other steps the United States might take amid concerns about the continuing violence.
“We want to sustain our relationship with Egypt,” Obama said, but “our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets.”
The biannual “Bright Star” military exercise with the Egyptian military was scheduled to take place next month. Pentagon officials say it is an important part of the U.S. strategy in the region, designed to improve readiness and strengthen relations between American and Egyptian forces.
The United States also canceled Bright Star in 2003 because of the demands of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Obama’s decision came as the death toll in the violence in Egypt climbed to 525. Egyptian officials reported that the dead were mostly supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi but included at least 43 police officers.
Thousands were wounded on Wednesday when security forces broke up protests by demonstrators loyal to the ousted president. Most of the deaths occurred when riot police fired tear gas and automatic weapons on a rally outside a mosque in Cairo.
Obama made the remarks in the driveway of his rental vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard, relayed to the public by audio because television cameras didn’t have time to set up live transmission.
“The Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen,” Obama said.
Obama didn’t say whether he has determined that the new interim government in Egypt is a “military coup,” which would trigger the withdrawal of more than $1 billion in military aid to the country. He ignored questions from reporters about whether he would cut off aid.
“In the spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect, I want to be clear that America wants to partner in the Egyptian people’s pursuit of a better future,” Obama said. “But our partnership must also advance the principles that we believe in and that so many Egyptians have sacrificed for these last several years, no matter what party or faction they belong to.”
The president said that Americans were inspired two years ago when Egyptians took to the streets to overturn their repressive government, but he said that the United States believed that the transition to democracy needed to adhere to nonviolence, a respect for universal rights and a process for political and economic reform. “That’s why we’re so concerned by recent events,” he said.
“While we do not believe that force is the way to resolve political differences, after the military’s intervention several weeks ago, there remained a chance for reconciliation and an opportunity to pursue a democratic path,” Obama continued. “Instead, we’ve seen a more dangerous path taken.”
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