Topics: Barack Obama

White House denies reports US halting military aid to Egypt

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Politics,White House,Barack Obama,Egypt,Foreign Aid,Arab Spring,Egyptian Revolution,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,State Department

The White House on Tuesday denied reports that the administration is cutting off aid to Egypt following a recent outbreak of violence.

“The reports that we are halting all military assistance to Egypt are false,” said National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden, in a statement. “We will announce the future of our assistance relationship with Egypt in the coming days, but as the president made clear at [the United Nations General Assembly], that assistance relationship will continue.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told the Washington Examiner that no final decisions on Egyptian aid have been made and a “review is ongoing.”

The statements came after CNN on Tuesday night, citing a U.S. official, reported that the Obama administration planned to suspend all of its military aid to Egypt in the coming days after an “accumulation” of violent events.

Over the weekend dozens of protesters were killed in clashes, the latest outbreak of violence over a tumultuous three months since the military ousted democratically-elected Islamist Morsi from power.

The White House suspended some aid to Egypt last month and the State Department reviewed whether it should cut off all military funds to Cairo while the country transitions to new leadership.

The administration though avoided labeling the ouster of Morsi as a coup d'etat because under U.S. law that decision would automatically freeze American aid to Egypt.

The United States provides $1.5 billion dollars a year in assistance to Egypt, with nearly a third of that going to the military.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., repeatedly has called on the United States to suspend foreign aid to Egypt and declare the military action a coup.

“This is an incredibly difficult decision, but we have to learn the lessons of history and remain true to our values,” he said in a statement in early July.

The Egyptian military removed Morsi from the presidency in early July amid escalating protests over his economic policies during his one year.

The Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that it is not aligned with any one group in the power struggle.

The administration has taken other steps to rein in the military’s crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters, delaying the delivery of four F-16 fighters to the Egyptian Air Force earlier this year.

That initial step, as well as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s repeated pleas to military leaders to use restraint, fell on deaf ears in July as Egyptian Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s troops killed hundreds of protesters, and Morsi's supporters retaliated by torching government buildings and Christian churches.

Obama administration officials have expressed reluctance to shut off all aid, fearing it would further reduce U.S. influence and could fail to force Egyptian generals to reinstate a democratically-elected government.

Another complication for the administration is that cutting off funds wouldn't have any effect for at least year because the U.S. has already delivered this year’s military assistance.

Israeli officials also are concerned that turning off the American spigot would destabilize the region and allow Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and even Russia and China to step in and fill the funding vacuum.

The strength of Israel’s 1979 treaty with Egypt relies in large part on U.S. military aid to Cairo.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last month pledged $8 billion in grants and loans to Egypt’s post-Morsi government. Those funds are more than enough to make up for any funding shortfall the U.S. would leave by cutting off its aid.

Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center of Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Examiner in July that "incremental pressure" and "negotiating quietly over issues" is far more effective than cutting off all aid.

“There’s a dialogue that goes on between the U.S. and Egyptian military. … If you deprive them of the aid, that dialogue will stop," he said, allowing other countries in the Middle East to step into the influence vacuum.

This story was published at 8:49 p.m. Oct. 8 and has been updated.

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