WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama convened his National Security Council on Tuesday to weigh whether the U.S. should cut off aid to Egypt as he struggles to respond to a continuing crisis that has led to the imprisonment of its democratically elected president and the deaths of nearly 1,000 civilians.
The Obama administration has been reviewing its Egyptian strategy since last month, but the White House said no immediate decision is expected following Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is a matter of taking a close and careful look at the assistance that the United States provides to our partners in Egypt,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And that evaluation is based on a few things. It’s based on ensuring that we’re in compliance with the law. It’s based on an analysis of the national security interests of the United States of America. But it’s also affected by the actions taken by the interim Egyptian government.”
An aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, said his panel had been told that the “transfer of military aid was stopped” and that “there is no indication of how long it will last.”
Earnest, peppered with questions on the issue for nearly an hour at the daily White House briefing, repeatedly said aid had not stopped, though he refused to say whether Leahy was wrong.
“It’s inaccurate to suggest that we’ve cut off aid to Egypt,” he said. “We can go round and round on this. I’m trying to be as clear and candid as I can.”
From Washington to various foreign capitals, the Obama administration’s policy choices were the subject of debate: temporarily halt releasing funds already earmarked for Egypt, provide a midway response between no action and a full cutting of aid, or make deep reductions as the Egyptian military continues to thwart calls to return to a democratic path.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday became the latest lawmaker to call on Obama to cease assistance until Egypt meets certain conditions, including a commitment to hold democratic elections, provide political and religious freedoms to its people and uphold treaties.
Since July 3, when the Egyptian military deposed deeply unpopular President Mohammed Morsi, the Obama administration has struggled to come up with a coherent response.
Officials engaged in verbal acrobatics to avoid mentioning the word “coup,” a legal determination that would’ve forced a cutting of aid. They waited days as Morsi languished in jail, uncharged, before calling for his release – and even then he was only mentioned indirectly as part of “politically motivated arrests.”
The administration dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns to Cairo for crisis talks, but those were unsuccessful.
The administration previously announced that it had canceled next month’s Bright Star joint military exercises with the Egyptians and suspended delivery of four F-16 fighter jets that Egypt had previously ordered.