Obama, top aides, review Egypt strategy
21 August 2013, 12:02
Washington - President Barack Obama and top aides on Tuesday
scrutinised US strategy on Egypt, while the White House denied it had quietly
frozen millions of dollars in aid after Cairo's military crackdown.
Obama chaired a meeting of his National Security Council,
which includes top diplomatic, defence, intelligence officials and uniformed
The meeting produced no imminent changes to US policy amid a
cresting political row on aid to Egypt following the ouster last month of
ex-president Mohammed Morsi.
An administration official told AFP the meeting was part of
a broad review of US policy towards Egypt following a tumultuous two months in
the country and was not limited to considering the size of future US aid
At stake is the entire US strategy towards Egypt, the shape
of US assistance, which annually hits $1.3bn, and Washington's response to how
key regional players are responding to the coup.
Saudi Arabia, an ally with which Washington has delicate
ties, has warned it would step in and help Cairo if US aid trickles to a halt.
The crackdown, which has killed nearly 900 people, has left
Obama balancing US political values and hopes for Arab democracy, and national
security interests guarded by Cairo's military.
The White House also took a new public shot at Egypt's
military-backed government, by calling the arrest on Tuesday of Muslim
Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie incompatible with the military's pledge for an
"inclusive political process."
Badie had been in hiding since July 10 when a warrant was
issued for his arrest over accusations he incited the deaths of protesters
outside the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters in late June.
Egypt's authorities have this month rounded up dozens of
senior Brotherhood leaders, drawing US rebukes.
Debate over US aid to Egypt was fuelled by a report that
suggested that Washington had already frozen pending military aid shipments.
Several of Obama's top congressional opponents say sending
billions of dollars to Egypt is now incompatible with US values, after
protesters were shot dead in the streets.
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said there had been no
final decision on a review of US aid to Egypt, launched after the military's ouster
of Morsi, the country's first democratically elected leader.
"Reports to the contrary that suggest that assistance
to Egypt has been cut off are not accurate," he said.
In an increasingly confusing game of semantics, Earnest
insisted that the flow of aid was not a "faucet" that could be turned
off and on.
"Assistance is provided episodically, assistance is
provided in tranches... This is not a matter of turning the dial one way or the
other," he said.
Earlier, an aide to Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat who
heads the subcommittee on foreign operations, said the flow of aid had been
"This is current practice, not necessarily official
policy, and there is no indication of how long it will last," the aide
The Obama administration has decided not to make a
determination on whether the overthrow of Morsi was a coup, to avoid tangling
its Egypt policy in a law which requires aid to be cut in such circumstances.
"We have not made a policy decision to suspend our aid
to Egypt, period," said Marie Harf, a State Department spokesperson.
"We have not made a decision to suspend all of our
assistance to Egypt or to slow our assistance; any reports to the contrary are
Around $585m in US aid and equipment is still due to the
military this year, part of a multi-billion dollar programme in place since the
Camp David peace accords were negotiated in the late 1970s.
In the report disputed by the White House, The Daily Beast
website earlier reported that the administration had decided to treat the
events in Egypt as a coup, but without making an official designation.
Such a tack gave the administration flexibility to reverse
its stance if required at the end of the policy review, the report said.
Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in an
interview on Tuesday it would be a mistake if the United States cut off
military aid but insisted Cairo could survive without it.
Such a move would be a "bad sign and will badly affect
the military for some time", Beblawi told ABC News in an interview.
But in a veiled warning to Washington, Beblawi said in the
past, Egypt had turned to Russia for weapons and would find a way forward, even
without American help if necessary.
"Let's not forget that Egypt went with the Russian
military for support and we survived. So, there is no end to life," he
Saudi Arabia has said it and other Arab states would step in
to provide assistance if Washington shut the flow of military aid which has included
fighter jets, anti-terror equipment and battle tanks.