U.S. Delays Egyptian Aid Over Democracy Issue

The Obama administration is holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt until that country gets back on a path toward democracy. Egypt has been a major recipient of U.S. aid for decades, and officials say these are not permanent changes.

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When Egypt's democratically elected president was ousted from power, there was a lot of speculation that the United States might cut off some, if not all, aid to that country. And now the Obama administration has told the interim government in Egypt that it's holding up hundreds of millions of dollars. The message from the United States boils down to this: No Apache helicopters until you can show you're getting back on a path to democracy. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July, the Obama administration carefully avoided calling it a coup so that it wouldn't have to legally cut off aid. But it did begin reviewing the annual $1.5 billion a year aid package and it's now announcing some changes. Officials say that they're withholding $260 million in cash assistance to the interim government until it can show that it's committed to an inclusive democracy and it's holding up some big ticket items to the Egyptian military - the delivery of Apache helicopters, harpoon missiles and tank parts.

A former State Department official, Tamara Wittes, who runs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, calls the move a half measure.

TAMARA WITTES: I think the administration's intention is to send a message to the Egyptian military that there is a price to pay if you repeatedly ignore the policy preferences of the United States and if you engage in security operations that end up massacring hundreds of your own citizens.

KELEMEN: But the U.S. didn't want to cut off aid entirely and administration officials went out of their way in a conference call with reporters to say none of these changes are permanent. The U.S. is still training Egyptian military officers and will continue assistance meant to help Egypt provide security in the Sinai and fight terrorism.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, says the administration's message is muddled. He argues that by law the administration should've cut off aid following the coup and since then, the Egyptian military has reinstated martial law. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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