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US to deliver four fighter jets to Egypt despite debate over 'coup'

The United States will deliver four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, despite a debate in Washington over whether the removal of Mohammed Morsi as president was a coup that should prevent such military aid to Cairo. Taimur Khan reports

NEW YORK // The United States will deliver four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, despite a debate in Washington over whether the removal of Mohammed Morsi as president was a coup that should prevent such military aid to Cairo.

Senior officials in the White House approved the delivery of the aircraft even as the defence department said on Wednesday that the United States president, Barack Obama, had directed it "to review our assistance to the government of Egypt".

The F-16s were part of a previously agreed order of 20 jets. Eight were delivered in January, the next four are likely to be delivered next month, and the rest will be sent next year, Pentagon officials said.

In 2010, a US$1.3 billion (Dh4.77bn) package was approved by congress that included the jets as well as tank kits, which are assembled in Egypt. US officials said that about half of the aid package had been delivered.

The decision to allow delivery of the weapons came on the same day that the Obama administration said that US national security interests would be threatened by a suspension of aid and military assistance to Egypt.

"We do not believe it is in the best interests of the United States to make immediate changes to our assistance programs," said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney.

At the state department, the spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, reiterated the administration's position that it was staying neutral in Egypt's current crisis.

Yesterday, the Republican senator, Rand Paul, introduced legislation that would prohibit the US from sending aid to Egypt, because of what he described as the "country's military coup d'état". But the decision to deliver the fighter jets signalled to the Egyptian military that the US was supporting its moves, for now, said Josh Stacher, a professor of Middle East politics at Kent State University who studies the military relationship between the two countries.

"There's really no other way to read this," Mr Stacher said.

The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, was reported to have been the main conduit for relaying US positions to the Egyptian general, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, since Mr Morsi's removal.

The Pentagon is incredibly important when it comes to policy creation regarding Egypt, even more so than state department, Mr Stacher said,

Even with the close military-to-military relationship, the US has a limited ability to influence the decisions by Egyptian generals in domestic politics, and some observers have questioned the value of the large amount of US aid to Egypt.

But that misses the point, Mr Stacher said.

"I don't think the US can buy influence over events," he added. "But it buys the loyalty of the most cohesive organisation in the country", and the only one that can guarantee Washington's core security interests.

tkhan@thenational.ae

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