Hours after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted from power last week, President Barack Obama said he had directed U.S. government agencies “to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.”
Now, only eight days later, Reuters reports that the Obama administration “still plans to go through with the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in the coming weeks.”
Quoting an unnamed American defense official, Reuters reports that the four Lockheed Martin-built jets will likely be delivered next month and that another eight F-16s are due to be delivered in December. It writes [emphasis added]:
“There is no current change in the plan to deliver F-16s to the Egyptian military,” a second U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Asked about the F-16s, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “It’s our view that we should not … hastily change our aid programs.” He directed specific questions about the jets to the Defense Department.
The Pentagon, responding to queries by reporters, later issued a statement echoing President Barack Obama’s July 3 comments that he had ordered a review of U.S. assistance to Egypt. Asked whether Obama’s review had put the F-16 delivery on hold, one of the U.S. officials told Reuters: “The delivery remains scheduled as planned.”
The F-16s are part of the annual $1.5 billion U.S. aid package to Egypt, the vast majority of which comes in the form of military aid.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that cutting off aid to Egypt now “would not be in the best interests of the United States.”
Carney said that the administration was still reviewing whether the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned president should be labeled a coup d’etat. That distinction is important, because under U.S. law, the government is prohibited from providing financial aid to a country whose military has overthrown a democratically-elected government.
Because Morsi’s ouster by the military was preceded by unprecedented massive street demonstrations, the administration could have wiggle room in the “coup” label. Proponents of continuing the aid say that it helps maintain U.S. leverage over the Egyptian military which is now essentially in control of the country.
“We are going to take the time necessary to review what has taken place,” Carney said in answer to a question if President Obama views the development as a coup. “This is an incredibly complex and difficult situation.”
“We need to be mindful of our objective here, which is to assist the Egyptian people in their transition to democracy” and protect U.S. national security interests, Carney said.
Lockheed Martin would not confirm to Reuters the report that the jets would be delivered within weeks.
Reuters provides more details on the status of this year’s aid package to Egypt:
For fiscal year 2013, which ends in September, the United States has already disbursed $650 million in military aid to Egypt. Another $585 million is pending, the first U.S. official said.
Another eight F-16s are due to be delivered in December, the first U.S. defense official said. The jets are part of a package of 20 F-16s, of which eight have already been delivered.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has spoken by phone with the head of Egypt’s armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, eight times since July 2. The last conversation was on Tuesday.
While the F-16 delivery is reportedly going forward, lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday to increase transparency about foreign aid.
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013, which would require “regular evaluations of foreign assistance programs to be made publicly available to the American people.” Fox News reports that the House version of the bill is being introduced by Congressmen Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA).
“America’s foreign assistance programs need greater transparency to ensure that they are advancing our values and interests overseas,” Rubio said.
“Taxpayers deserve to know where their tax dollars are being spent and how effectively these investments are representing our nation’s international priorities. I will continue to find ways to ensure that the funds we devote to these types of programs are being spent wisely and in a way that advances U.S. national security objectives,” the Florida senator added.
“There is no doubt that this one percent of our federal budget has the power to radically transform lives,” Cardin said.
“Our goal is to ensure the highest possible efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance investments by requiring robust and uniform accountability — and full transparency — of each and every foreign aid dollar, so that we can measure our success,” the Maryland Democrat added.
Aides to the lawmakers tell Reuters that the legislation was not directly tied to the Egypt developments, but one said that the “timing is certainly opportune.”