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POLITICS: PennAve

Obama holds security meeting on Egypt, confusion about aid persists

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White House,Brian Hughes,Barack Obama,Egypt,Foreign Aid,National Security,PennAve,Middle East

This article was updated at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday to reflect that the National Security Council meeting was held.

President Obama held a National Security Council meeting Tuesday afternoon to review whether to cut aid to Egypt, capping a confusing day in which the administration fought back against assertions that it had temporarily suspended money flowing to the longtime ally.

The White House provided no details about specifics of the meeting.

The office of Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said Tuesday that they were “told that the transfer of military aid was stopped, that this is current practice.”

Peppered with questions from reporters during the daily White House briefing before the NSC meeting was held, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said reports that U.S. aid had been cut off to Egypt are “not accurate.” However, he never said that Leahy’s understanding of administrative policy was wrong.

In other words, an already murky portrait of the Obama’s administration’s response to widespread violence in Egypt became even murkier on Tuesday. And the White House, facing growing pressure to slash aid to Egypt, employed some semantics gymnastics.

Earnest could not say whether any aid that would have gone to Egypt — aside from an already announced delay in delivering F-16 planes and the cancellation of a joint military exercise — had been suspended amid the U.S. review.

Some, such as Leahy, clearly view the current delay in certain funding decisions on Egypt as a suspension of aid. The White House is resisting that label because it would move the administration closer to declaring a coup in Egypt, a designation that would force it to permanently halt aid to the country.

Earnest repeatedly compared the aid process to a “spigot,” trying not to get pinned down on whether monetary support had stopped. The White House spokesman did confirm that at least some money was still flowing to Egypt.

Administration officials have openly questioned how much influence the U.S. has in limiting the bloodshed in Egypt. Both sides in the conflict there view the U.S. with suspicion — and other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, have vowed to step up aid to Egypt if the Obama administration slashes support.

In essence, the administration is trying to decide how to handle the remaining money that was scheduled to go to Egypt through the end of this fiscal year. It could decide to shift the aid to other initiatives or halt support for certain projects altogether. However, if the administration called the uprisings in Egypt a coup, it would be forced to entirely stop all aid.

By choosing to review aid on a case-by-case basis, the administration is laying the foundation to permanently turn off financial support for Egypt if it decides to do so. The administration could resume aid without any kind of public action since it has not formally said a coup took place.

But 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 Washington Examiner. “What is it that we’re saying exactly?”

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner