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U.S. to withhold ‘large scale’ military aid from Egypt

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is suspending delivery of some “large scale military systems” to Egypt but will maintain financial aid to help secure its border with Israel.

A State Department statement on Wednesday said the United States would “hold the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance to the government pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.”

“The United States continues to support a democratic transition and oppose violence as a means of resolving differences within Egypt,” said the statement by Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman.

Psaki did not say how much of the $1.5 billion in annual assistance — $1.3 billion of it in defense aid – would be cut, but she outlined areas where assistance would continue, suggesting that at least some of the defense aid would be diverted to civil society programs. Defense assistance would continue in areas near Israel’s border, according to Psaki’s outline.

“We will continue assistance to help secure Egypt’s borders, counter terrorism and proliferation, and ensure security in the Sinai,” she said. “We will continue to provide parts for U.S.-origin military equipment as well as military training and education.”

The Obama administration has resisted pressure to cut aid to Egypt from some lawmakers and human rights groups since July, when a military coup ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president, Mohammed Morsi.

U.S. law prohibits foreign aid following military coups, and Obama administration officials have been at pains not to use that word. In recent weeks, however, as the Egyptian military has stepped up its crackdown on Brotherhood-affiliated opponents of the regime, the Obama administration has signaled it would reconsider aid.

Israeli officials had earlier in the week urged continued Western support for Egypt’s military ruler, Gen. Abdel al-Sisi, seeing him as the best guarantor of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and a lawmaker who is close to pro-Israel groups, seemed to hint in a statement that the Obama administration could face resistance from some sectors of Congress that back funding for Egypt.

“Stability in Egypt is of critical importance to security in the region and United States interests,” she said. “I am working with the Administration to understand how this aid suspension can be accomplished without harming efforts to fight terrorism or promote a transition to democratic governance. I encourage the Administration to consult closely with Congress on these issues moving forward.”

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