US President Barack Obama made his first statement on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Egypt on Thursday, as the death toll there surpassed 500 following clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
President Barack Obama on Thursday canceled joint military exercises with Egypt next month and said the United States “strongly condemns” the violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters that has killed more than 500.
America’s traditional cooperation with Egypt “cannot continue as usual while civilians are being killed in the streets,” he said.
It was the president’s first statement on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Egypt, where spiraling violence prompted the government there to declare a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.
Obama still did not label the Egyptian military’s recent takeover as a coup - a designation that would have forced a cutoff of more than $1 billion in U.S. aid a year. The army on July 3 took power from Mohammed Morsi, a top Muslim Brotherhood official who became Egypt’s first democratically elected leader a year ago after the ouster of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Critics of Morsi expressed increasing concern over the past year that he was cracking down on democracy. His whereabouts since his ouster remain a mystery.
Speaking from his weeklong vacation in Massachusetts, Obama directed his national security team to see what additional steps the U.S. might take.
“America cannot determine the future of Egypt,” Obama said. “That’s a task for the Egyptian people. We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that he called Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to relay the decision.
“The Department of Defense will continue to maintain a military relationship with Egypt, but I made it clear that the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk,” Hagel said in his statement.
A 'centrepiece' of military relations
The Bright Star military exercise has been a centerpiece of the two countries’ military relations for a decade, but with the army consumed by the chaos in Cairo and other major cities, it was not clear that the cancellation of the joint maneuvers would be seen as more than a symbolic move.
The U.S. and Egypt have not held the biennial exercises since 2009. Several other countries, including Turkey, Jordan and Britain, have also participated.
As part of guarantees to Egypt when it made peace with Israel more than 30 years ago, the United States has been sending $1.3 billion in aid annually, most of it to the military. Fearing Washington might lose what leverage it has with the Egyptian army, the Obama administration so far has refused to call the military takeover a coup.
Obama has been criticized for that policy by both opponents and some supporters in the United States.
“We appreciate the complexity of the situation,” Obama said Thursday. “While Mohammed Morsi was elected president in a democratic election, his government was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians."
The president said Egypt would have "false starts" in its efforts to embrace democracy and recalled America’s own "mighty struggles to perfect our union."
Other administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have condemned this week’s violence. Kerry on Wednesday called it "deplorable." Also Wednesday, Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, resigned in protest over the violence.
Date created : 2013-08-15