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POLITICS: PennAve

Obama administration secretly halts aid to Egypt, senator says

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This article was updated at 1 p.m. Tuesday to include the White House's response.

The Obama administration has quietly suspended most aid to Egypt, even though it hasn't publicly called the military takeover there a coup, according to a Democratic senator.

The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told The Daily Beast that the Obama administration has halted most military aid, weapons deliveries and other economic help for Egypt. Leahy’s disclosure runs counter to the administration’s public talking points, as administration officials have said for days that no decision has been made on what to do about $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt.

The administration has canceled a joint military exercise with Egypt and held back on delivering four F-16 fighter planes to the longtime ally but imposed no other concrete punishments — at least publicly — coming well short of the penalties demanded by critics.

By choosing to privately treat the widespread violence as a coup, the administration is laying the foundation to permanently turn off aid to Egypt if it decides to do so. One administration official told the Washington Examiner that no final decision has been made.

The administration could resume aid without any kind of public action since it has not formally said a coup took place.

Such actions are likely to stoke congressional complaints that the Obama administration is once again sidestepping Capitol Hill.

“This hardly crystallizes our message to Egypt,” one GOP Senate aide told the Examiner. “What is it that we’re saying exactly?”

The White House disputed the reports, even though Leahy's office stood by their assertions.

“The report that we have suspended assistance to Egypt is incorrect,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. "As the president has said, we are reviewing all of our assistance to Egypt. No policy decisions have been made at this point regarding the remaining assistance."

Under U.S. law, the federal government is required to permanently halt aid to a country in the event of a coup. The Obama administration, despite mounting criticisms, has refused to use such a label.

“Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual while civilians are being killed in the streets,” Obama said from his vacation retreat on Martha’s Vineyard last week, declining to make any specific ultimatums to Egyptian officials — at least publicly.

Cutting off aid is a complicated proposition for the federal government, particularly considering its sizable amount of defense contracts with the North African nation.

For example, the Air Force last week approved a General Electric contract to upgrade Egyptian fighter jets.

And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday warned that the U.S. had limited control over what happens in the streets of Cairo.

“Our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited,” he said. “It’s up to the Egyptian people. And they are a large, great, sovereign nation. And it will be their responsibility to sort this out.”

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner