- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday that the Obama administration will soon decide on whether to resume military aid to Egypt, including Apache helicopters key to counterterrorism operations in the lawless Sinai Peninsula that abuts Israel.

But before the spigot of aid can be fully reopened, the military-dominated Egyptian government must address U.S. concerns that resulted in the aid cutoff last fall, he added.

“It is our hope to be able to make that transfer, providing there’s a conclusion drawn by our team with respect to some of the things we’ve been anticipating them doing,” Mr. Kerry told a House Appropriations Committee panel during a State Department budget hearing.

He added that he is “very, very hopeful that in very short order we’ll be able to move forward.”

The Obama administration suspended hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Cairo — including the delivery of defense equipment and cash assistance — in October following the Egyptian Army’s ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi last July. The move was intended to spur Egyptian leaders to move quickly toward creating a new, inclusive elected government.

While steps have since been taken toward holding elections — which are expected to be held by July — U.S. officials have grown alarmed by a crackdown launched by the military-led interim government not only against Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters, but journalists and civil society activists as well.

Earlier this week, detained political activists Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel said they had been abused and beaten by security forces prior to their court appearance.

“We want this interim transitional government to succeed. We are committed to try to help make that happen, but they need to help us to help them at the same time by implementing some of the reforms that we’ve been talking with them about with respect to inclusivity, journalists, some of the arrests and so forth,” Mr. Kerry told members of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on State Department, foreign operations and related programs on Wednesday.

While the U.S. aid cutoff deprived Egypt’s military of F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 tank kits, Harpoon missiles and Apache helicopters, Washington and Cairo have continued to maintain close cooperation on counterterrorism operations in the Sinai.

Mr. Kerry described the troubled peninsula Wednesday as a “serious threat” and said it was one of the reasons why the Obama administration is eager to send Apache helicopters to Egypt.

The Egyptian military has close to three dozen Apache helicopters, but not many of them are airworthy, Mr. Kerry said.

Asked by Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger whether a decision on the aid would be made before a new president is elected in Egypt, Mr. Kerry said: “I can’t absolutely say with certainty, but it’s our hope to be able to do that very soon.”

Army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted Mr. Morsi following massive anti-government protests in July, is expected to run for president and win.

Of the $1.5 billion in annual aid the U.S. had previously been providing Egypt, $1.3 billion went to the military. This aid helped 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 the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

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

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