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Obama Cancels Military Exercise With Egypt

Obama Cancels Military Exercise With Egypt

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - August 15, 2013

Amid a brutal Egyptian government crackdown on protests that has claimed more that 500 lives, President Obama has scrapped the two nations’ joint military exercise scheduled for next month, but stopped short of suspending any of the $1.5 billion in yearly aid the United States provides the country.

In an address Thursday that interrupted his family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, the president said he “deplores” the violence and killings of civilians by military forces after the July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the pursuit of martial law by the interim government. He pledged to take “further steps” if events warranted, but declined to specify what those steps might be.

“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Obama said from outside the home his family has rented for a week-long stay. He noted that his national security team will continue to monitor the actions taken by Egypt’s leaders.

The remarks marked the first time Obama has addressed the recent violence, which erupted Wednesday when security forces descended upon protesters supporting Morsi. He has spoken about Morsi’s ouster before, but has declined to characterize it as a “coup.” Secretary of State John Kerry described the situation in Egypt as “deplorable” and "a serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people's hopes for a transition towards democracy and inclusion." Last month, the administration halted a scheduled delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.

The State Department has noted that labeling the overthrow of Morsi as a coup would require the withdrawal of financial aid, which might undercut U.S. interests in Egypt, a nation Obama described as historically being a “cornerstone of peace in the Middle East.” But the administration’s motivation might also stem from the American people’s declining support for U.S. engagements abroad, as Pew polling shows.

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham traveled to Cairo last week at the request of the president. “We find it difficult to describe the circumstances of Morsi’s removal from office as anything other than a coup,” the senators wrote in an editorial in The Washington Post. “Unsuccessful leaders in a democracy should leave office by losing elections.”  Several days later, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, resigned his post.  The interim government, run by the military, declared a state of emergency, which the U.S. condemns.

“We believe that the state of emergency should be lifted, that a process of national reconciliation should begin, that all parties need to have a voice in Egypt's future, that the rights of women and religious minorities should be respected and that commitments must be kept to pursue transparent reforms to the constitution and democratic elections of a parliament and a president,” Obama said.

He pushed back against criticism the U.S. government is receiving from both supporters and opponent of Morsi.

“America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure. I know it's tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States or the West or some other outside actor for what's gone wrong,” he said.

Obama also had harsh words for Morsi, who was elected in June 2012. “His government was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians,” the president said. And, since Morsi’s ouster, “we've seen a more dangerous path taken, through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsi's associations and supporters and now, tragically, violence that's taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.” 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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