By Deb Riechmann
WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to its Mideast ally Egypt, responding to the military ouster last summer of the nation’s first democratically elected president and the crackdown on protesters that has sunk the country into violent turmoil.
While the State Department did not provide a dollar amount of what was being withheld, most of it is linked to military aid. In all, the U.S. provides $1.5 billion in aid each year to Egypt.
Officials said the aid being withheld included ten Apache helicopters at a cost of more than $500 million, M1A1 tank kits and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The U.S. also is withholding $260 million in cash assistance to the government until “credible progress” is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections. The U.S. had already suspended the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets and canceled biennial U.S.-Egyptian military exercises.
In Cairo, military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali declined immediate comment. Before the announcement, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Egyptian military leader, described his country’s relations with the United States as “strategic” and founded on mutual interests. But he told the Cairo daily, Al-Masry al-Youm, in an interview published on Wednesday that Egypt would not tolerate pressure, “whether through actions or hints.”
Neighboring Israel also has indicated concern. The Israelis consider the U.S. aid to Egypt to be important support for the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
The State Department stressed that the long-standing U.S. partnership with Egypt would continue and U.S. officials made it clear that the decisions are not permanent, adding that there is no intent by the Obama administration to end any specific programs.
Still, the decision puts ties between the U.S. and Egypt at their rockiest point in more than three decades.
“The United States continues to support a democratic transition and oppose violence as a means of resolving differences within Egypt,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “We will continue to review the decisions regarding our assistance periodically and will continue to work with the interim government to help it move toward our shared goals in an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation.”
The U.S. will continue to provide support for health and education and counterterrorism, spare military parts, military training and education, border security and security assistance in the Sinai Peninsula where near-daily attacks against security forces and soldiers have increasingly resembled a full-fledged insurgency.