- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Obama administration said Wednesday it is suspending hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid, including the delivery of defense equipment and cash, to Egypt in an attempt to nudge the interim government in Cairo to pave the way for an inclusive, democratically elected government.

“Holding up in the deliveries of hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance is a pretty clear message” about U.S. concerns over undemocratic developments in Egypt, a senior administration official said in a background briefing.

The U.S. will withhold F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 tank kits, Harpoon missiles and Apache helicopters from Egypt’s military. The Obama administration also will withhold $260 million in cash assistance to the Egyptian government.

“This decision will be reviewed on a periodic basis, particularly as we look at Egypt’s progress on the democratic transition,” said a second senior administration official who also spoke on background.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel discussed the administration’s decision in a phone call with Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday afternoon. A third senior administration official described the call, which lasted 40 minutes, as “very friendly.”

“Secretary Hagel made the key point that the U.S.-Egyptian security relationship and assistance relationship is continuing, and made the points that we’re continuing to provide assistance on the issues that advance both our vital security objectives,” the official said.

These issues include countering terrorism and proliferation, border security, ensuring security in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, maintaining peace with Israel and providing parts for U.S.-origin military equipment as well as military training and education.

“There will be no immediate diminution in Egypt’s ability to be a strong security partner of the United States,” another senior official said.

Gen. el-Sisi ousted democratically elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3 after days of massive anti-government protests.

The Obama administration, which has faulted Mr. Morsi for not governing in an inclusive manner, says the interim government is acting in a similar manner.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian court announced Wednesday that Mr. Morsi will go on trial on Nov. 4 on charges of inciting his supporters to kill his opponents while he was in office. Mr. Morsi has been held at an undisclosed location since his ouster.

The Obama administration has grappled with how to deal with Egypt since Mr. Morsi’s ouster. It does not publicly describe Mr. Morsi’s ouster as a coup, a description that would require the suspension of all aid to the country, according to U.S. law. Since July, the administration has canceled joint military exercises with Egypt’s military and suspended the delivery of F-16s.

Some lawmakers — even members of Mr. Obama’s political party — expressed dissatisfaction Wednesday with the administration’s decision to suspend the aid to Egypt.

“The Egyptian military has handled the recent transition clumsily, but they have begun a democratic transition which will serve the Egyptian people well in the future and have also worked to maintain regional stability,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “During this fragile period we should be rebuilding partnerships in Egypt that enhance our bilateral relationship, not undermining them.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, accused the administration of “trying to have it both ways, by suspending some aid but continuing other aid.”

“By doing that, the message is muddled,” he said.

The U.S. provides Egypt with about $1.5 billion in annual aid, $1.3 billion of which is for the military. This aid helps secure U.S. strategic interests in the region, particularly priority access to the Suez Canal for the U.S. military and Egypt’s compliance with its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

“The Egyptian generals probably will pull back some of those privileges at least temporarily in response to a partial suspension of U.S. aid,” said Paul Pillar, a CIA veteran and former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia.

Much of the $1.3 billion in aid to the Egyptian military is used to purchase defense equipment from U.S. firms.

“The U.S. needed to send a strong signal to Egypt because of the levels of violence in that country,” said William Lawrence, a visiting professor at George Washington University. “I question how practical this is to do because a lot of these are multiyear contracts on the military side that are hard to turn off and hurt U.S. business as much as they hurt the Egyptians.”

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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