The Cable

Top House appropriator: U.S. aid to Egypt not stopping any time soon

As the Obama administration and the rest of the Washington foreign policy community struggle to come to terms with the unfolding events in Egypt, top White House officials and an increasing number of top lawmakers seem to agree that the U.S. should not suspend military aid to the Egyptian military in the near term.

The speculation over whether U.S. military aid to Egypt, which totaled $1.3 billion last year, would be suspended hit a high pitch on Jan. 29 when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, "We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days." That same day, House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement, ""The United States must leverage its long-standing assistance to press Mr. Mubarak to let the voice of his people be heard through legitimate democratic elections."

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked that back on Jan. 30, telling ABC News, "There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid. We always are looking and reviewing our aid."

And on Monday, House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) also indicated that aid to Egypt would not be cut off anytime soon.

"While there are calls for eliminating Egypt's economic and military aid, I urge caution when deciding what the U.S. response will be," she said. "It is critical that we are deliberate about the actions we take. Egypt has been a moderate influence in the Middle East and has a peace agreement with Israel."

U.S. aid to Egypt totaled $1.55 billion in fiscal 2010, which includes $1.3 million in direct military aid. That's down from a high of $2.1 billion in total U.S. assistance in fiscal 1998. For fiscal 2011, the Obama administration had requested $250 million in economic support funds. That request is still pending.

The Obama administration's response to political upheaval this month in Lebanon is the most recent indicator of how they view the continuation of military aid to a country where the political winds are blowing against the interests of the United States.

Despite the fact Lebanon now has a prime minister backed by Hezbollah, the U.S. will continue funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for now, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said in a Jan. 27 roundtable that included The Cable.

"We think that it's a very important independent institution," McDonough said about the LAF. "That's why we support the Lebanese Armed Forces, not because of their association or non-association with Hezbollah, but rather because of their independence -- their independence from any political actor. We think that's very important, we're going to continue to work with them, but obviously we're going to take a look at each of the developments along the way."

The U.S. relationship with the Egyptian military closely mirrors the U.S. relationship with the LAF, said Andrew Tabler, next generation fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"The military in Egypt right now is maintaining control and they've been responsible regarding the protesters, so they're definitely a force that the U.S. government wants to maintain favor with at this stage," Tabler said.

The administration's latest message, that military and foreign aid suspension is not in the works, is due to the fact that the military aid is directly tied to Egypt's peace accord with Israel - and, of course, because the political situation in Cairo is still in flux, Tabler said.

"The administration is sending a signal to the Egyptian military that if you act responsibly we'll stand behind you. I think that's a smart policy."

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Egypt, NATO, Ethiopia, Tri-Valley, Pakistan,

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Monday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an informal dinner Monday evening for visiting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, and Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon also attended. Wonder what they talked about, besides, of course the U.S. hosting of NATO Summit 2012.
  • Monday also kicked off the 2011 global chiefs of mission conference, with over 200 ambassadors in town to chew over things like the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and the budget (be still my heart). This is also the chance for these ambassadors to air their grievance. Clinton will them significant face time on Wednesday and Thursday and they'll also hear from Donilon and Joints Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
  • Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg was in Addis Ababa Sunday and Monday as head of the U.S. delegation to the African Union summit. Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson (hey oh!) are in tow. "A major outcome of the summit included reaffirmation of the AU's recognition of Alassane Ouattara as the winner of last year's presidential elections in Cote d'Ivoire," Crowley said.
  • The State Department announced limited sanctions against Belarus in response to what Crowley characterized as the "the brutal post-election crackdown by the government of Belarus." The U.S. is revoking the general license that had authorized U.S. persons to do business with two Belarusian companies, expanding the list of Belarusian officials subject to travel restrictions, and working towards financial sanctions against additional Belarusian individuals and entities. Meanwhile, the U.S. plans to increase humanitarian and civil society aid. Separate EU sanctions are expected soon.
  • 9 flights evacuated 1,200 American citizens from Egypt on Monday to Larnaca,Cyprus, Athens, Greece, and Istanbul, Turkey. More flights are expected Tuesday and new destinations are being added, including Frankfurt, Germany. There are 2,600 Americans total who want to leave Egypt and the State Department is planning to get all of them out. There are 50,000 Americans who have registered with the State Department just to let them know they are in Egypt now.
  • Despite that Obama has sent a pseudo-envoy by the name of Frank Wisner to Cairo, the official position is still that the U.S. is not calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down. "So we will be looking for concrete actions; a process that leads Egypt to a more inclusive environment and free, fair and credible elections later this year," Crowley said. "It has to be inclusive in bringing into a national dialogue, you know, political opposition, civil society, women, those who want to have the opportunity to shape Egypt's future."
  • Crowley kept on saying that the ball is still in Mubarak's court. "And, you know, our private message is our public message: that the government has to respond to the aspirations of the Egyptian people," he said. "So, you know, this will take some time to undertake, but we do encourage Egypt to take aggressive steps as soon as possible."
  • Tri-Valley University in California has been closed to allegations of widespread immigration fraud. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is helping India students affected by the closure. Those involved in the investigation have to wear ankle bracelets! "This is widespread across the United States and standard procedure for a variety of investigations. It does not necessarily imply guilt or suspicion of criminal activity," Crowley explained.
  • The U.S. diplomat Raymond Davis, who shot and killed two Pakistani would be muggers is immune from arrest and prosecution, Crowley said. "In our view, he acted in self-defense when confronted by two armed men on motorcycles. He had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm," Crowley said.