(CNSNews.com) – After deliberating for more than two months, the Obama administration announced Wednesday it will withhold several hundred million dollars’ worth of aid to Egypt--not because it has decided that the military takeover amounted to a coup, but because of some of its actions were “not consistent with inclusive democracy and nonviolence.”
Administration officials in a background briefing confirmed there has been no change in its stance on the matter: It has not determined, and does not believe it needs to determine, whether the removal of elected President Mohammed Morsi on July 3 was a coup.
U.S. law prohibits funding for “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree,” or by “a coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” A determination to that effect in Egypt’s case could have cost the second-largest recipient of U.S. military aid some $1.3 billion a year.
Much of the focus of Wednesday’s teleconference briefing by five administration officials was on the assistance that is not being withheld--or “recalibrated,” in the term repeatedly used.
This includes economic assistance for health, education, democracy and similar programs; military training; assistance for programs advancing U.S. security objectives such as countering terrorism and proliferation and ensuring security in the Sinai peninsula wedged between Egypt and Israel; and provision of spare parts for U.S.-origin military equipment.
What is being withheld for the meantime is cash assistance to the military-installed interim government worth $260 million, and the delivery of some large-scale military items, including Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Apache helicopters, and four F-16 jets whose delivery the administration already placed on hold in July.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement these items and assistance would be held back “pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.”
“We will continue to review the decisions regarding our assistance periodically and will continue to work with the interim government to help it move toward our shared goals in an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation,” she said,
Egypt’s military said it stepped in to oust Morsi after millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding the departure of his year-old Muslim Brotherhood administration.
Since the takeover hundreds of Morsi supporters and security force personnel have been killed during violent protests and other clashes.
Islamists have also directed their anger at members of the Coptic Christian minority; human rights activists condemn the Islamists for the violence as well as the state for not protecting Christians or acting firmly against the perpetrators.
Key U.S. lawmakers have been divided over the administration’s response to the crisis, and that was reflected in the reaction to Wednesday’s announcement.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations and has long called for the aid spigot to be shut, said the administration was sending a “muddled” message by withholding some areas of assistance but not others.
“Our law is clear. When there is a military coup, U.S. aid to the government is cut off,” he said. “Rather than encourage reconciliation and restore democracy as it promised, the Egyptian military has reinstituted martial law and cracked down on the Islamic opposition, which has also used violence.”
Leahy said if the administration wanted to continue funding the Egyptian government it should “ask Congress for a waiver.”
But Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who chairs the equivalent House Appropriations subcommittee, disagreed with the aid suspension.
“Pulling away now may undermine the ability of the United States to work with a critical partner,” she said. “Egypt is going through a difficult transition, and while it does, the United States must preserve this partnership that has been so important to our national security, Israel’s security and the stability of the entire Middle East.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) supported the piecemeal suspension, saying that “a pause in assistance is appropriate until the Egyptian government demonstrates a willingness and capability to follow the roadmap toward a sustainable, inclusive and non-violent transition to democracy.”
But another Democrat, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (N.Y.), expressed disappointment at the decision.
“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,” he said. “During this fragile period we should be rebuilding partnerships in Egypt that enhance our bilateral relationship, not undermining them.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has pressed for an aid cutoff since the military takeover, told Newsmax TV the funding should have been stopped earlier and described the administration’s foreign policy as “bizarre.”
Relieved to see the departure of the Muslim Brotherhood government, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have between them pledged a total of $12 billion to Egypt’s interim government since the July 3 military takeover.