WASHINGTON //Senior aides to Barack Obama, the president of the United States, have recommended that the US suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Egypt in response to the military's removal of the country's first democratically elected leader, US officials said on Wednesday.
Such a step would be a dramatic shift for an administration that declined to call the overthrow of the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, on July 3, a coup, and has argued that it is in US interests to keep the aid flowing.
The move could have profound implications for the decades of close US-Egyptian ties that have served as a bulwark of security and stability in the Middle East.
The officials said the recommendation from top national security advisers had been with Mr Obama for at least a week but they did not expect him to make a decision until after the full Congress votes on his request for authorisation for military strikes on Syria, which is not expected before Monday.
The US provides Egypt with US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) a year in aid, $1.3bn of which is military assistance. The rest is economic assistance. Some of it goes to the government and some to other groups. Only the money that goes to the government would be suspended. Mr Obama will have to decide how much aid will be suspended, but the officials said the recommendation calls for a significant amount to be withheld. The funds could be restored once a democratically elected government is returned.
While leaving the exact amount to be suspended up to the president, the aides have recommended that it include all foreign military financing to Egypt's army except for money that supports security in the volatile Sinai Peninsula and along Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, the officials said.
Assistance used to pay US companies that sell Egypt military equipment would be suspended if Mr Obama accepts the recommendation but those firms would be compensated with so-called "wind up" payments that could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the officials.
The White House and state department declined to comment on the recommendation, but congressional aides said the national security adviser, Susan Rice, had outlined the possible strategy in closed-door consultations with politicians.
Any decision on suspending assistance to Egypt would follow months of internal deliberation over how to respond to Mr Morsi's removal, during which the US administration has struggled to come up with a coherent policy.
The administration decided that it was not in the US national interest to determine whether a coup had taken place, as such a designation would have required it to suspend all but humanitarian assistance to Egypt.
It did delay the delivery of some American fighter planes but, as Egypt's military began a clampdown on supporters of Mr Morsi, despite US appeals for restraint, the Mr Obama's advisers started to consider more robust action.
The US president then cancelled a joint military exercise and announced a new review of assistance.