Washington (AFP) – The United States is poised to suspend much of its military aid to Egypt due to Cairo’s sweeping crackdown against supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The decision would hold up the delivery of major weapons, including Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets and M1A1 Abrams tanks, officials told AFP, confirming overnight U.S. media reports.
But American aid focused on counter-terrorism efforts — including operations in the Sinai desert near Israel’s border — would likely continue, officials said.
An announcement of the move was expected later this week but officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington had already effectively frozen deliveries of expensive military hardware since a July 3 coup and subsequent bloody clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Nothing’s been delivered in months,” one said.
After Morsi’s overthrow, the Pentagon called off a planned exercise with Egypt and postponed the delivery of four F-16 fighters.
The White House did not confirm it was to scale back assistance but said Washington would not cut off all aid, which amounts to $1.5 billion a year, most of it in military hardware and training.
“The reports that we are halting all military assistance to Egypt are false,” Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said in a statement late Tuesday.
She said the administration would unveil plans on Egypt “in the coming days” but that President Barack Obama had made clear at the UN General Assembly that the “assistance relationship will continue.”
Obama and his deputies have repeatedly appealed to Egypt’s military-backed government to hold fresh elections to restore democratic rule, but have so far failed to persuade Cairo to change its approach.
Islamist backers of the ousted Egyptian president clashed with police on Sunday, leaving 57 people dead.
Asked last month if the United States would go ahead with a planned delivery of Apache attack helicopters, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the administration was “reviewing all aspects of our relationship.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Tuesday that recent violence in the streets was “exactly why this massive policy review has been undertaken, because business can’t continue as usual.”
While insisting no final decision had been made, she suggested the administration may distinguish between aid that flows directly to the Egyptian authorities and assistance that goes to non-governmental organizations.
Israel, anxious about maintaining its 1979 peace accord with Egypt, has reportedly asked Washington to maintain aid to Cairo’s military-led interim government.
The United States has provided billions in aid to Cairo since the 1979 peace deal, ensuring peace between Egypt and Israel as well as priority access to the Suez Canal and anti-terrorism cooperation.
The United States has deposited $584 million in remaining military aid funds for fiscal year 2013 in a federal reserve account pending the outcome of the policy review, according to State Department officials.