State Dep't Asked If Obama's Egypt Policy Is 'Worthy' of a Nobel Peace Prize Winner

By Susan Jones | August 16, 2013 | 6:30 AM EDT

Mourners amid the bodies of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi at the El-Iman mosque in Cairo's Nasr City, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Egyptian authorities on Thursday significantly raised the death toll from clashes the previous day between police and supporters of the ousted Islamist president, saying hundreds of people died and laying bare the extent of the violence that swept much of the country and prompted the government to declare a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)

( - Reporters on Thursday pressed the U.S. State Department on President Obama's foreign policy, particularly his approach to Egypt, where hundreds of people have been killed in this week's in street battles between the Egyptian military and supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president.

State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki says no one believes the cancellation of joint military exercises with Egypt, announced Thursday by President Obama, "is going to change actions on the ground." And she expressed the belief that Egypt, despite escalating violence, is on "a rocky path to democracy."

There weren't many easy questions on Thursday: One reporter asked Psaki, "Do you think or is the administration confident that the steps -- that the policy that you have pursued thus far in Egypt and also in Syria are worthy of a president who not so long ago won the Nobel Peace Prize?"

"Yes, Matt," Psaki responded.

"You do. Ok," the reporter said.

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009, only one month after taking office. He said at the time, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

Obama also said the Nobel Prize awarded to him "must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity...That has always been the cause of America. That's why the world has always looked to America.  And that's why I believe America will continue to lead."

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Why do something that won't matter?

Back to Thursday's press briefing at the State Department: The same reporter who asked about Obama's Nobel Peace Prize also pressed Psaki on Obama's decision to cancel the Bright Star military exercises with Egypt, which began in 1980 and were supposed to take place every two years. The last Bright Star exercises took place in October 2009. The 2011 exercise was canceled in "light of ongoing transition events in Egypt,"
the State Department said at the time.

As for the cancellation announced Thursday, was it intended to force Egypt's ruling military to "change its behavior?" a reporter wondered.

"Well, I don't think anyone in the government thinks that certainly the cancellation of Bright Star is going to change actions on the ground," Psaki said. "However, just given the events of the last 36 hours, this was -- this did impact our decision-making about aid, and we'll continue to review. But there are a number of steps we're taking -- and I think this is just an important point, broadly speaking -- to continue to encourage Egyptians from all sides and all parties to get back on a productive path."

The reporter followed up: "Why don't you do something that you think will have an effect and will change the calculation of the Egyptian military so that they stop killing people in the streets?"

Psaki said she was trying to make the point that the cancellation of Bright Star "was sending a message," and she said the administration is taking other "constructive steps" to encourage the military and the Muslim Brotherhood to "move back to the table." The cancelation of Bright Star is "not one piece; it's a number of pieces," Psaki said. "And we continue to work at it."

"Right,"  the reporter said. "But the number of pieces...the number of steps that you've taken thus far have not yet...had the desired result. Is that correct?"

"Well, Matt, this -- no one has ever thought this would come quickly or easily. So we're continuing -- but we believe the door remains open for dialogue and to return to a long-term, sustainable democracy. That's why we're continuing to work with all parties on it."

Psaki added that the end result -- a "sustainable democracy" in Egypt -- is what's important.

The reporter asked her, "But the question is, are you confident that the policy that you're pursing will produce the desired results?"

Psaki echoed Obama in saying that it's up to Egypt to take the next steps.

Another reporter pressed Psaki on why the Obama administration doesn't immediately cut aid to Egypt.

It's "complicated," Psaki said. "Given the depth of our partnership with Egypt, our national security interests in this pivotal part of the world, our belief also that engagement can support a transition back to a democratically elected civilian government, we have sustained our commitment. But of course we evaluate and we review on a regular, if not daily, basis the scope of our relationship, and that, of course, includes aid of all forms."

"That doesn't answer the question," the reporter said. "Why not now?"

Psaki repeated her "depth of partnership" explanation, later admitting, "So it's not an easy question to answer."

'Rocky road to democracy'

Another reporter asked Psaki if she believes "we are at a point where (U.S.) influence has eroded in Egypt."

"[I]t's not about influence," Psaki said. "It's about the many layers of the relationship, including the important role Egypt plays in regional important that is to our own national security, our belief that they are on a path that we are encouraging to continue, a rocky path to democracy...."

"What makes you think they're on a path to democracy at all right now?" the reporter followed up. "Are you aware of elections being held?"

"Well, Arshad, this is something that has been proposed in Egypt, as you know. By rocky path, I mean there are more steps that need to be taken, and the steps that are going to be taken, we hope will be taken in the months ahead are part of that path. But that's what we're continuing to encourage."

"But you still believe that the current Egyptian leadership is on a path to democracy?"

"We still think there is -- the window is open for Egypt, for the leaders in Egypt to make the right choices and take the right steps to return to that path," Psaki said.