In a stern warning to Egypt's leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry said the escalating violence throughout the country Wednesday had dealt a "serious blow" to political reconciliation efforts between the military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, with possible repercussions for military relations between both nations.
In the strongest sign yet of U.S. impatience with the Egyptian armed forces since Morsi's ouster, officials are considering calling off the largest joint military field-training exercise in the region following today's violence.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the possibility of scrapping the biennial Bright Star exercise was discussed at a meeting of the so-called deputies committee, which gathers the second in command from key U.S. national-security agencies.
Still, Obama administration officials signaled no further change in U.S. policy toward Egypt following the mounting violence. The U.S. has avoided declaring Morsi's ouster a coup, a move that would force the administration to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid to the strategically important nation.
Kerry condemned the violence that killed at least 278 people nationwide and the reinstatement of emergency rule. He urged Egypt's interim leaders to take a step back and calm the situation.
"This is a pivotal moment for all Egyptians," he said. "The path toward violence leads only to greater instability, economic disaster and suffering."
"Today's events are deplorable, and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy," Kerry told reporters at the State Department.
Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate considered to be pro-reformist, resigned in protest Wednesday as the military-backed leadership imposed a monthlong state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.
Wednesday's assault came after days of warnings by the interim administration, which replaced Morsi after he was ousted on July 3. Sit-in camps at two major intersections on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital began in late June to show support for the ousted president. Protesters -- many from Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood -- have demanded his reinstatement.
Kerry spoke earlier Wednesday with Egypt's foreign minister, as well as with other top officials in the Middle East. He insisted that a political solution remains a viable option in Egypt, though he conceded that the path was made "much, much harder" by recent events.
He said Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, together with his EU colleagues, had provided constructive ideas for a prompt and sustainable transition to democracy during talks in Cairo last week. "From my many phone calls with many Egyptians, I believe they know full well what a constructive process would look like," Kerry said.
President Barack Obama, on a weeklong vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., was briefed on the deteriorating situation by national-security adviser Susan Rice.
White House and State Department officials said the U.S. role was largely to encourage the interim government to fulfill its promises to enact political reform. The Egyptian government has pledged to amend the Islamist-backed constitution adopted last year and to hold parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.
"Figuring out how to encourage the interim government to make good on their promise to transition to a democratically elected government there is something that we're working on," Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. "Hopefully, it's something they're working on."
The turmoil was the latest chapter in a bitter standoff between Morsi's supporters and the interim leadership that took over the Arab world's most populous country. The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians massed in the streets at the end of June to call for him to step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.
Morsi has been held at an undisclosed location. Other Brotherhood leaders have been charged with inciting violence or conspiring in the killing of protesters. At least 250 people have died in previous clashes since Morsi's ouster.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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