WASHINGTON — President Obama’s top national security aides have recommended that the United States suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Egypt in response to the Egyptian military’s ouster of the country’s first democratically elected leader, US officials said Wednesday.
Such a step would be a dramatic shift for an administration that has declined to label President Mohamed Morsi’s July 3 removal a coup and has contended that it is in US national security interests to keep the aid flowing. It would probably also have profound implications for decades of close US-Egyptian ties that have served as a bulwark of security and stability in the Middle East.
The officials say the recommendation has been with Obama for at least a week but they do not expect him to decide until after the full Congress votes on his request to authorize military strikes on Syria, which is not expected before Monday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
The United States provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year in aid, $1.3 billion of which is military assistance. The rest is economic assistance. Some goes to the government and some to other groups. Only money that goes to the government would be suspended. Obama will have to decide how much aid would be suspended, but the officials said the recommendation calls for a significant amount to be withheld. The money could be restored once a democratically elected government is returned.
While leaving the exact amount to be suspended up to the president, the principals have recommended that it include all foreign military financing to Egypt’s army except for money that supports security in the increasingly 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 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 national security adviser Susan Rice has outlined the possible strategy in closed-door consultations with lawmakers.
Any decision on suspending assistance to Egypt would follow months of internal deliberation over how to respond to Morsi’s ouster during which the administration has struggled to enunciate a coherent policy.
The administration determined 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 fighter planes, but, as Egypt’s military began a heavy-handed crackdown on Morsi supporters — despite US appeals for restraint — the president’s advisers started to consider stronger action.
Obama then canceled a joint military exercise and announced a new review of assistance.