The United States is partially lifting its freeze on funding to Egypt, with plans to deliver 10 Apache helicopters and release some $650 million in military aid this year, officials said.
Despite concerns about Egypt’s failure to embrace democratic reforms following the July ouster of president Mohammed Morsi, the US government will go ahead with easing its funding freeze, officials said.
After news of the Apache aircraft was released late Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Wednesday the US administration would also seek Congress’ approval to release some $650 million out of a planned $1.5 billion in aid for Egypt in the fiscal year 2014.
The funds would be primarily used for programs such as counterterrorism, border security and non-proliferation, Psaki said, including in the volatile Sinai peninsula where Egyptian authorities are trying to crack down on militant groups.
The move comes after the administration Tuesday certified to Congress, which holds the US purse strings, that Egypt was abiding by its strategic relationship with the United States, and upholding the terms of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
However “we continue to urge Egypt to follow through on its commitment to transition to democracy,” Psaki stressed, explaining why not all the budgeted aid was being released.
To signal its displeasure with Cairo’s crackdown on dissent after Morsi’s ouster, the Obama administration in October imposed a temporary freeze on the delivery of major weapons to Egypt, including the Apache helicopters as well as fighter jets and other hardware.
But the United States has struggled to balance its concerns over human rights abuses with a strategic interest in keeping up counter-terrorism ties with Cairo and maintaining the Egypt-Israel peace accord.
As a result, Washington chose not to cut off all aid to Egypt’s military-backed government and avoided officially labeling the ouster of Morsi a coup.
Psaki said the military-installed leadership must take a more democratic path by “conducting free, fair and transparent elections, easing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and the media.”
“Those are steps that Egypt needs to take, even while we take these steps on our end,” she told reporters.
Focus on counterterrorism
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel informed Egyptian Defense Minister General Sedki Sobhy of President Barack Obama’s decision in a phone call Tuesday, his spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
The choppers are meant to bolster counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, he said.
“Egypt faces a significant and growing threat from extremist groups, particularly in the Sinai, and in the past several months has used Apache helicopters has a significant component of its counterterrorism operations in the Sinai,” Psaki said.
“So we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten not just Egypt but Israeli security as well as the United States. And this is one element of a broader counterterrorism strategy.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy was traveling to the United States Wednesday and is set to meet with Kerry later this week.
But a Pentagon spokesman said on Wednesday the delivery of other weapons, including F-16 fighter jets, would remain temporarily suspended.
“Because we’re not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking the proper steps to support a democratic transition, we have withheld other equipment: F-16s not released, M1 tanks not released, Harpoon missiles not released,” Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.