Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

US lifts arms embargo on Egypt

Supply of military equipment to Egypt to resume after freeze declared when the military took power two years ago

The United States is lifting its hold on the supply of military equipment to Egypt, which was frozen when the military took power in Cairo nearly two years ago.

The White House said Tuesday that President Barack Obama was freeing up the equipment and making other changes to military ties with Washington's long-time ally to support U.S. interests while encouraging Egypt's political reforms.

Obama directed the release of 12 Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft, 20 Boeing Harpoon missiles, and up to 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits made by General Dynamics, said National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.

This was “in the interest of U.S. national security,” she said.

The decision was announced after a telephone call between Obama and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in which they also discussed the turmoil that is gripping the region.

Sisi is leading an initiative to form a unified Arab military force in the region to confront Iranian-allied fighters in Yemen, and other threats.

The White House said Washington would “modernize” the way it provided military aid to Cairo to focus on counterterrorism, border security, maritime security and Sinai security, where the armed group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been active.

“In this way, we will ensure that U.S. funding is being used to promote shared objectives in the region, including a secure and stable Egypt and the defeat of terrorist organizations,” Meehan said in a statement.

Obama told Sisi he would continue to ask the U.S. Congress for $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt per year, but said the United States would stop allowing Egypt to buy equipment on credit starting in fiscal year 2018, the White House said.

Rights activists expressed concern. Resuming full military aid would send a dangerous message that human rights were not a priority concern for the United States, said Neil Hicks, a director at Human Rights First.

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since its peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Aid was frozen after the Egyptian army overthrew former President Mohamed Morsi. Obama resisted calling that a coup because it would have resulted in aid being cut completely.

Some restrictions were relaxed last year, but Congress made aid dependent on the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry certifying that Egypt was taking certain steps to govern democratically, a delay which angered the Egyptian government.

Kerry is expected to tell Congress within the next two weeks that the aid is in the U.S. national security interest, even though he will not make the “democracy certification,” a senior administration official said.


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