I U.S., in Sign of Displeasure, Halts F-16 Delivery to Egypt
II Egyptian Commanding General al-Sissi Criticizes Obama Government
By MARK LANDLER and THOM SHANKER
July 24, 2013
WASHINGTON — President Obama, in his first punitive response to the ouster of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt, has halted the delivery of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian Air Force.
Mr. Obama, administration officials said, wanted to send Egypt’s military-led government a signal of American displeasure with the chaotic situation there, which has been marked by continued violence, the detention of Mr. Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a transition that has not included the Brotherhood.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel relayed the decision to Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the head of Egypt’s military, a senior official said, and did not say when the Pentagon might reschedule the delivery.
“Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s,” the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, said Wednesday. He did not cite any specific actions by the Egyptian military.
The White House emphasized that the decision did not have implications for $1.5 billion in American aid to Egypt, which it has said it does not want to cut off for now. The administration is reviewing that aid but has scrupulously avoided referring to Mr. Morsi’s ouster as a coup d’état, which could force its suspension on legal grounds.
In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the administration said it did not plan to halt the F-16 shipment. But officials said they were disturbed by how events have unfolded since then. Holding up planes is a modest, but unmistakable, symbol of that concern — “an inside fastball to the military,” in the words of a Pentagon official.
“We’ve been very clear with the military: we understand this is a difficult situation but we want things to get back on track,” said a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the diplomatic sensitivities of the decision. “Trying to break the neck of the Brotherhood is not going to be good for Egypt or for the region.”
The warplanes are part of a deal the United States and Egypt reached in 2009 for the delivery of 20 F-16 C/D fighters during 2013. The first batch of aircraft was delivered in January, with more scheduled for this summer and another delivery late this year.
The summer delivery already had been delayed once, for logistical reasons, when it was determined that the American pilots who would ferry the F-16s to Egypt might have difficulty leaving the country on commercial carriers because of the mushrooming political unrest.
The decision was described by some Pentagon officials as carefully calibrated to signal American displeasure but not go so far as to rupture the relationship or put Egypt’s security at risk.
The jet fighters have little role in Egypt’s domestic unrest, and Egypt is not facing an imminent external threat that would require adding four more warplanes to its security forces, said one Pentagon official. The greatest blow might be to the pride of the Egyptian military.
“This is like throwing an inside fastball to brush a batter back from the plate — just a warning that you can ‘bring the heat’ if you have to,” another Pentagon official said. If the political transition within Egypt moves ahead, the shipment of warplanes could be rescheduled.
Pentagon officials also noted that while the F-16 shipment was halted, other military-to-military cooperation remained. For example, American planning for a major, annual joint military exercise with Egypt, called “Bright Star,” would continue.
“We remain committed to the U.S.-Egypt defense relationship as it remains a foundation of our broader strategic partnership with Egypt and serves as pillar for regional stability,” said Mr. Little, the Pentagon spokesman.
II Rare interview with Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi
By Lally Weymouth, E-mail the writer
CAIRO — In his first interview since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi last month, Egypt’s commanding general sharply criticized the U.S. response, accusing the Obama administration of disregarding the Egyptian popular will and of providing insufficient support amid threats of a civil war.
“You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that,” said an indignant Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, speaking of the U.S. government. “Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?”
Excerpts from rare interview with Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi
Egyptian general criticizes U.S. in first interview since coup
Excerpts of interview with Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi
Sissi is widely considered the most powerful man in Egypt, wielding more control than anyone over the country’s direction after a tumultuous 21 / 2 years in which the military has shoved aside two presidents following popular uprisings. He denied interest in running for president but did not rule it out.
Although Sissi gives occasional speeches, he rarely sits down for interviews. But over the course of two hours in an ornate reception room in Cairo’s Defense Ministry on Thursday, he provided his most detailed explanation yet of why he decided to oust Morsi, the nation’s first democratically elected president. Sissi also expressed deep disappointment that the United States has not been more eager to embrace his rationale.
Sissi’s comments are a measure of just how thoroughly the Obama administration has alienated both sides in a profoundly polarized and unsettled Egypt, all while trying to remain neutral. Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood regularly accuse the United States of acquiescing to a military coup.
Sissi spoke on the same day that Secretary of State John F. Kerry made the administration’s most supportive comments to date, saying that Egypt’s army was “restoring democracy.”
“The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people,” Kerry said during a visit to Pakistan. “The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment — so far.”
The U.S. government is required by law to halt non-humanitarian assistance when a democratically elected government is forced from office in a military coup. But the Obama administration appears determined to avoid using that term and to prevent a cutoff of the $1.3 billion that the U.S. government sends to Egypt annually. Much of that aid goes to the military.
Since Morsi’s July 3 ouster, U.S. officials have cautioned Sissi and other generals to show restraint in their dealings with protesters, at least 140 of whom have been killed in clashes with security forces. The Obama administration has also encouraged the military to reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood.
That prospect appears distant, with authorities promising a fresh crackdown on Islamist protests and Morsi continuing to be detained in an undisclosed location, unable to communicate with even his family.
Still, the furthest Washington has been willing to go in penalizing the military is to postpone the sale of four F-16 fighters. Most analysts say the delay is purely symbolic.
Sissi bristled at the move. “This is not the way to deal with a patriotic military,” he said.