The White House flatly rejected calls from House conservatives to halt U.S. aid to Egypt after a slow response from Cairo in rebuking violent attacks on the U.S. Embassy there Tuesday night.
A group of House conservatives, led by freshman Rep. Jeffrey M. Landry, Louisiana Republican, called for foreign aid to both Libya and Egypt to be stripped from a six-month federal funding bill.
Egypt is second only to Israel in the amount of assistance it receives from the United States, an estimated $2 billion a year.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One Thursday that the U.S. would not withhold aid to Egypt.
“We appreciate the public statements that [Egyptian] President Morsi has made condemning acts of violence … and honoring its obligation to ensure the safety of Americans,” he said.
On Thursday, Mr. Morsi issued a stronger rebuke to violent protesters in Cairo and Libya, vowing to protect the U.S. Embassy in Cairo after speaking for nearly an hour with President Obama Wednesday evening. After the new statement, Obama administration officials were toning down their public comments about Egypt and their concern over Mr. Morsi’s slow response to condemning the violent reaction to an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.
The Obama administration already was wary of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist government, and his tepid response after the attacks is giving them new cause for concern. Mr. Morsi waited a full day before issuing a mild rebuke to the rioters while the movement that brought him to power, the Muslim Brotherhood, called for a second day of protests against the anti-Islam film that sparked the protests.
In contrast, Libyan leaders have been fully engaged in cooperating with U.S. authorities to hunt down the killers and bring them to justice and to work to put in place new protections for U.S. personnel in Benghazi and throughout Libya.
The White House on Thursday acknowledged that its partnership with Egypt continues, although it has changed significantly since an uprising last spring toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
Campaigning Thursday in Golden, Colo., Mr. Obama said the world is going through some “tumultuous times” but said America would stay true to its commitment to improving the plight of people around the world.
“Our task, as the most powerful nation on Earth, is to defend and protect and advance our people, but also to defend and protect and advance those values at home and around the world,” he said. “That’s what our troops do. That’s what our diplomats do. That’s what our intelligence officers do. That’s what our citizens do. That’s what we believe. Those are the values that we hold to.”
Egypt has played a critical role in America’s strategic position in the Middle East for decades, but since last spring’s uprisings, the U.S. is grappling with an unpredictable relationship with Cairo.
“The U.S. is confronting the reality that if you call for democracy, you may just get it,” said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
While several countries in the region are finding their way, it’s likely that the first elections in countries won’t produce stable leadership, Mr. Cordesman said, cautioning that the U.S. needs to take the long view and warn officials not to rashly talk about rescinding U.S. aid or risk losing leverage altogether.
“I’m not going to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt exactly, but sometimes you need to speak softly and maintain a big aid program,” he said.