The Obama administration will announce curbs on a significant part of nonessential military aid to Egypt within a few days, U.S. officials said Tuesday, marking a shift in America’s relations with one of its key Arab allies.
Officials would not provide figures about how much of the annual $1.2 billion in military aid would be withheld, but they said the primary focus will be a hold on the shipment of a dozen AH-64D Apache helicopters from an order placed four years ago.
Provision of crucial spare parts for the extensive U.S. military equipment that Egypt already has and training for the country’s armed forces will continue, officials said. They said aid that supports counterterrorism initiatives and Egypt’s relations with Israel, including security efforts in the Sinai Peninsula and monitoring along the border with the Gaza Strip, would also continue.
U.S. officials described the decision — which comes three months after a military coup toppled Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president — on the condition of anonymity. Neither Congress nor Egyptian officials have been notified of the decision, and the announcement could be postponed.
“We will announce the future of our assistance relationship with Egypt in the coming days,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
Citing President Obama’s address to the U.N. General Assembly last month, Hayden said, “As the president made clear at UNGA, that assistance relationship will continue.”
The Apache shipment that will be placed on hold is part of an $820 million, 12-aircraft order dating from 2009. The hold, which can be lifted at a later time, is more a symbolic move than a substantive loss for the Egyptians, who have about three dozen Apaches from previous orders.
The decision reflects increasing frustration within the Obama administration that Egypt’s military leadership, which has been running the country since the July coup, is not moving swiftly enough toward new elections.
Egypt’s coup and ensuing political violence has challenged Obama, forcing him to choose between maintaining relations with a strategic partner in the Middle East and punishing the military government there for toppling Morsi and cracking down on his supporters.
Hundreds have been killed in the violence, which has surged again in recent days.
U.S. law forbids most aid to countries whose elected governments are overthrown in a military coup — a term that Obama, as a result, has declined to use. Exceptions include money deemed as serving U.S. national security interests, such as counterterrorism assistance.
The administration had tried to persuade the Egyptian military against using force to oust Morsi or end street encampments by his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. It had also warned that a cutoff of aid was possible.
The large block of aid, which is used by Egypt mostly to order U.S.-made defense equipment such as Apache helicopters and F-16 warplanes, is a bedrock of American security and diplomatic policy in the Middle East. The administration had already suspended the transfer of some military equipment.
The money, historically second only to U.S. annual aid to Israel, is tied to Egypt’s decision more than 30 years ago to make peace with the Jewish state.
The administration has been reviewing aid to Egypt since the coup and was loath to suspend the assistance for fear of losing what little leverage the United States had to pressure Egypt’s military-backed interim government to call new elections. Some Persian Gulf states, opposed to Morsi and his Islamist supporters, have donated billions to the interim government.
Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.