U.S. Cuts Some Aid to Egypt, But Wants to ‘Maintain Our Relationship’

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Photo: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Possibly spurred by an ultimately inaccurate leak to CNN, the White House announced on Wednesday that it will scale back some aid to Egypt in an effort to convey its displeasure over the Egyptian military ousting President Mohammed Morsi in July. American officials said the "recalibration" involves suspending $260 million in aid and withholding some "large-scale military systems," such as Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon missiles, M1-A1 tank parts, and F-16 warplanes. Obama administration officials are toeing a difficult line. One senior White House official declared Egypt's military "has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy which sort of leads us to where we are now," but several other officials stressed that this is just a break, not a breakup.

One senior administration official told the New York Times, "it’s fair to say that holding up hundreds millions of dollars of assistance is a pretty clear message," but added, "This is not meant to be permanent; this is meant to be the opposite." The U.S. provides Egypts with $1.5 billion in aid each year and will continue sending aid for things that "advance our interests," such as counterterrorism programs, as well as money for health care, education, and the promotion of business in Egypt.

The Obama administration may wind up restoring all aid in the coming weeks if Egypt adopts a package of constitutional amendments. They're expected to be approved in a national referendum, though the Times notes some believe that's partly "because the government has jailed most leaders of the Islamist opposition and shut down most of its media."

Events in Egypt several hours before the official announcement by the U.S. suggest there's even more turmoil on the horizon. Egypt's government said Morsi will be tried next month for allegedly encouraging his followers to kill opponents, a move that's likely to spark more protests from his Islamist supporters. Another official said the U.S. doesn't expect that reducing aid will cause an "immediate" change in the actions of Egypt's military leaders. "This decision underscores that the United States will not support things that run contrary to our values and it’s important to be clear about those things," the official added.