August 23rd, 2013
06:00 AM ET
9 years ago

Obama: U.S. aid to Egypt no longer 'business as usual'

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(CNN) – President Barack Obama said on Thursday that while United States aid to Egypt is unlikely to influence the military government's crackdown on protests, there is "no doubt that we can't return to business as usual."

"My sense with Egypt is that the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does," Obama said in an exclusive interview with CNN "New Day" anchor Chris Cuomo.

The United States provides $1.2 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid to Egypt every year. After the Egyptian military ousted popularly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy in July, many in Congress called on the Obama administration to cut the U.S. assistance.

After the Morsy ouster, Egypt's military began to crack down on his party, the Muslim Brotherhood. The crackdown led to ferocious clashes in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, many of which have led to condemnation from the international community. Around 900 people have been killed in the clashes.

The violence was Egypt's worst since the 2011 revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

During the interview, Obama said that the U.S. is working with a shortened time frame in Egypt, alluding to the fact that the time is nearing for a definitive American response to the violence.

"It's a more abbreviated time frame?" Cuomo asked Obama.

"Yes," Obama said.

Despite the turmoil, Obama emphasized the importance of U.S.-Egypt relations.

"This is a partnership that's been very important to us, in part because of the peace treaty with Israel and the work that's been done to deal with the Sinai," Obama said.

Egypt is seen as a key ally in a highly complicated and volatile region. The country is one of two Middle East nations that has signed a peace treaty with Israel and has been a lynchpin for wider diplomacy in the Middle East.

Obama echoed other officials in his administration, stating that right now his administration is evaluating the situation and trying to establish what is in the long term interest of the United States.

"There was a space right after Mr. Morsy was removed in which we did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move in a path of reconciliation," Obama said. "They did not take that opportunity."

There is currently uncertainty in Washington over whether aid to Egypt has been cut off. While a U.S. official told CNN on Tuesday that the Obama administration is withholding some military aid to Egypt as it reviews how to proceed, the White House said repeatedly that any suggestion aid had been halted beyond two areas that have already been announced was inaccurate.

"Providing foreign assistance is not like a spigot,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday. “You don't turn it off and on, or turn it up or down, like a faucet. Assistance is provided episodically. That is, it's provided in specific tranches."

Leaders on Capitol Hill, however, were telling a different story.

David Carle, a spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, confirmed to CNN on Monday that his office was told that military aid has been halted. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is chairman of the committee that oversees such funding.

"As we noted yesterday, the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee was told that the transfer of military aid was stopped, that this is current practice, not necessarily official policy, and there is no indication of how long it will last," an aide to Leahy reiterated in a statement on Tuesday.

Debate over aid to Egypt began when the Obama administration did not classify Morsy's ouster as a "coup." If the administration had done that, as many lawmakers called on it to do, it would have been forced to cancel aid.

More than half of Americans in a new poll believe the United States should halt military aid. But the situation is complex.

"The United States is kind of in a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation," said Tarek Radwan, associate director for research at the Atlantic Council.

Analyst Jon Alterman said the issue centers on what Washington wants to accomplish.

"If you are trying to change the decision-making process of the Egyptian military - that is very hard to do right now because they believe they are locked in an existential struggle," said Alterman, Middle East program director at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

"If what you are trying to do is demonstrate our resolve to the rest of the world and people looking on, that is another issue."

- CNN's Jessica Yellin and Alan Silverlieb contributed to this report.

Filed under: Egypt • President Obama
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