WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration moved closer to a decision Tuesday on continuing or curtailing $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt amid the crackdown by military authorities there on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said a National Security Council discussion was to take place Tuesday afternoon. Cabinet members including Secretary of State John Kerry were to participate, and some elements of U.S. economic and military support for Egypt could be suspended, according to U.S. officials. Those officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the meeting.
The administration has insisted that it has made no final decision on halting assistance to Egypt since the military’s July overthrow of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government, the suspension of the Egyptian constitution and the crackdown on Islamist demonstrations.
Almost 1,000 people have died in the past week. President Barack Obama and his advisers have been seeking a way to express U.S. displeasure while maintaining what little influence Washington still has with its formerly stalwart Arab ally.
So far, Obama has opted against any swift reaction, insisting it would not serve U.S. national interests to suddenly eliminate funding for operations that cover everything from fighting al-Qaida in the heart of the Middle East and safeguarding the stability of the Suez Canal to halting weapons flow to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and ensuring Israel’s security.
For weeks the administration has said it won’t characterize the military’s takeover of the government as a “coup d’etat,” Such a determination would trigger automatic suspension of most U.S. aid programs.
Still, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. is trying to abide by all requirements and has conducted a legal review.
That review found that most forms of U.S. economic aid would be permissible even if a coup were declared because funds for democracy, health and other programs are exempted from cuts, she said. Military aid enjoys no such legal exception.
Tuesday’s White House meeting was set up after an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said his Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee had been informed the “transfer of military aid was stopped.”
“This is current practice, not necessarily official policy, and there is no indication of how long it will last,” David Carle said.
Earnest said any suggestion that the administration had cut off Egypt aid was inaccurate. No decision had been reached, he said, a message echoed by the State Department and Pentagon.
The administration has suspended the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets and biennial U.S.-Egyptian military exercises planned for next month.
But, at the same time, “there are some smaller packages that have moved forward,” Earnest said. “Additional tranches of aid could go out, but that’s something that’s being evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”
The State Department says some $585 million — almost half America’s annual military aid package for the year — hasn’t been delivered.
Harf said Tuesday the administration hasn’t missed any deadlines because it has until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, to use the money.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report