U.S. to partially suspend military aid to Egypt
WASHINGTON -- Three months after President Obama ordered a review of U.S. aid to Egypt following a military coup there, the White House appears to have settled on a middle ground: maintaining key assistance for security and counter-terrorism efforts while suspending delivery of tanks, helicopters and other military hardware.
The decision, which officials said would be announced within days, reflects the Obama administration’s desire to rebuke the Egyptian military for its ever-expanding crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood movement, but also Washington’s need to maintain what Obama has called “a constructive relationship” with a historically crucial Arab ally.
The future of U.S. assistance to Egypt – a $1.55-billion annual package widely viewed as a linchpin of stability in the Middle East – has been one of the most vexing questions for the administration since the Egyptian army deposed the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in July and jailed his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Though officials declined to discuss details of the review before the formal announcement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that the U.S.-Egypt relationship could not return to business as usual. He added that military aid would not be totally suspended.
“We will continue to support a democratic transition and oppose violence as a means of resolving differences in Egypt. And our relationship with the Egyptian government, including U.S. assistance to Egypt, will continue,” Carney said. “But any announcement about the future of our assistance relationship will come after we’ve made the appropriate diplomatic and congressional notifications.”
Administration officials told reporters this week that they planned to withhold a substantial amount of U.S. military aid in response to the continuing violence in Egypt. News reports said that delivery of U.S. tanks, helicopters and fighter jets – part of $1.3 billion in annual military assistance – would be suspended but that funding for counter-terrorism and security operations in the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip would not be affected.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Obama pledged to maintain “a constructive relationship” with Egypt despite concerns about the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which deepened Wednesday with an announcement that Morsi would stand trial next month on charges of inciting the killing of opponents – charges his supporters have denied.
“We’ll continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people,” Obama said. “But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.”
Soon after the July 3 coup, the administration announced that it would delay the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets and canceled a mostly ceremonial joint exercise between the U.S. and Egyptian militaries.
The decision on what to do about the remainder of the U.S. aid package – which dates to the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel – comes after a months-long review of U.S. assistance to Egypt, which also includes some $250 million in annual economic assistance.
Analysts said that if Obama announces a partial aid suspension, it will represent a slap on the wrist of the Egyptian military while allowing the administration to show that it disapproves of the moves the generals are making.
“With this partial suspension, it hopes to make clear that there is some price (largely symbolic and perhaps temporary) for ignoring U.S. preferences,” wrote Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, endorsed the administration’s decision as “the correct one as a matter of law and policy.”
“The military played a decisive role in the overthrow of a deeply flawed but democratically elected government, and its excessive use of force in recent weeks cannot be condoned,” Schiff said in a statement. “At the same time, our relationship with Egypt is an important one and the United States has a core national interest in a stable and democratic Egypt.”
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