July 8, 2013

No cutoff in US aid to Egyptian military – for now

Under U.S. law, a coup determination would require a suspension of all non-humanitarian aid to Egypt, including $1.3 billion that directly supports the Egyptian military.

The Associated Press

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Egyptian army stand guard around the Republican Guard building in Nasr City in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, July 8, 2013. Egyptian soldiers and police opened fire on supporters of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi early Monday in violence that left dozens of people killed, including one officer, outside the military building in Cairo where demonstrators had been holding a sit-in, government officials and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

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This handout photo provided by the White House, taken July 3, 2013, shows President Barack Obama meeting with members of his national security team to discuss the situation in Egypt in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington. The Obama administration is treading carefully after Egypt's military overthrew its president, wary of taking sides in a conflict that pits a democratically elected leader against a people's aspirations for prosperity and inclusive government. (AP Photo/White House Photo, Pete Souza)

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Some others voiced caution. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he had accompanied five Republican senators on a trip to the Middle East last week and that close U.S. allies in the region strongly advised against halting funding for Egypt.

"It's important that we not just shoot from the hip on that," he told reporters

Focusing on U.S. spending, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tweeted: "In Egypt, governments come and go. The only thing certain is that American taxpayers will continue to be stuck with the $1.5 billion bill."

At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki used similar, if not identical, language to Carney's to describe the current take on developments, pointing out that the U.S. has long provided significant assistance to Egypt even when it had serious concerns about the actions of its government. She appeared to refer to the tens of billions of dollars in U.S. aid sent to the government and military of authoritarian former leader Hosni Mubarak who ruled Egypt for decades without free and fair elections and under emergency decrees that gave him vast powers.

"The reason we have provided this aid in the past doesn't mean we have supported, even prior to this, every action taken by the government of Egypt," she said. "But there are security interests in the region; there are security interests for the United States."

Psaki demurred when asked if deposing an elected leader, placing him under house arrest and appointing a new head of state — as the Egyptian military has done over the course of the past five days — was not a clear example of a military coup. She pointed out that millions of Egyptians opposed Morsi, who had become increasingly autocratic, and did not believe his ouster was a coup.

Some officials, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to describe internal administration discussions in public, said that a "no-coup" finding may become increasingly difficult to justify given the rising violence among Morsi supporters, his opponents and security forces that has led to fears of a civil war.

Meanwhile, Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with Islamists protesting the military's ouster last week of the president. The bloodshed left more than 50 protesters and three members of the security forces dead, officials and witnesses said, and the Muslim Brotherhood's political party called for all-out rebellion against the army.

The violence outside the Republican Guard building in Cairo — where Morsi was first held last week — marked the biggest death count since the beginning of massive protests that led to the fall of Morsi's government. The U.S. has condemned the violence and is appealing for restraint from all sides as well as a speedy return to elected civilian governance.

In the latest high-level contact between Washington and Cairo, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke again with Egypt's defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, on Monday — their fifth conversation in four days, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little.

Little would not disclose details of those conversations, but other officials said they had centered on U.S. concerns that the actions of the Egyptian military might force a suspension in American assistance, something the army relies on. They say that Hagel, and other senior administration officials, have told the Egyptian army brass to appoint a transitional civilian leadership and call for new elections and the drafting of a new constitution so as to give Washington some leeway in its legal review of the situation.

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