New York // White House lawyers have decided the US cannot legally continue to provide military aid to Egypt and the administration is pressing Congress to provide a mechanism to keep the aid flowing.
The Obama administration announced earlier this month that it was suspending the delivery of military hardware such as F-16 jets and A1 Abrams tanks in order to push the Egyptian military government to honour its promise to quickly hold elections after Mohamed Morsi was removed as president in the face of massive street protests.
Other aspects of the military aid, including the provision of spare parts for weapons systems and help with counter-terrorism and border security, were maintained. US officials refused to describe Mr Morsi’s removal from the presidency on July 3 as a coup, which under US law would have automatically triggered a suspension of all aid.
But the Washington Post reported this week that administration officials have begun negotiating with congressional officials who control the aid to help provide a solution such as a national security waiver to keep the money flowing.
The several hundred million dollars in military aid that was obligated to Egypt prior to July 3 will “run out pretty soon and when that happens administration lawyers have said that in order to be in compliance with US law, the administration cannot provide further military financing”, Michael Hanna, an Egypt expert at The Century Foundation think tank, said.
During a House hearing on Washington’s Egypt policy on Tuesday, Beth Jones, the top State Department official working on Middle East policy, argued that the military relationship with Egypt is a vital US national interest, and asked Congress for “legislative flexibility so that we can continue the programmes that we think are terribly important”.
Congress can offer a legal solution to the aid question by offering a national security waiver for the funds to continue flowing or a process that certifies Egypt is meeting democratic transition benchmarks.
“Unless something gives on the legislative side, the aid relationship might grind to a halt,” Mr Hanna said.
Many of the Congress members from both parties at the hearing agreed with the administration on the necessity of the aid relationship, but, Mr Hanna said, the administration “is going to have to deal with some high-profile critics” among key legislators.