With instability rising in the Middle East, President Barack Obama told Egypt’s leader Tuesday that he was ending a freeze on weapons shipments to the longtime U.S. ally, a moratorium on material support that began after a bloody military-backed coup there in 2013.
Obama told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a phone call that he was lifting the holds on delivering F-16 fighter planes, Harpoon missiles and tank kits, and said he would ask Congress to continue an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt.
The White House said the decision to resume the shipments of weapons was made in the interest of U.S. national security, though officials insist the timing isn’t related to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen – once a key U.S. ally in fighting terrorists whose government has collapsed amid advances by Iran-backed rebels.
Egypt has backed Saudi Arabia’s attack on the rebels, which threatens to turn the conflict into a wider regional war.
The more than $1 billion Obama has pledged to request for Egypt makes the country the second-largest recipient of military aid. Obama told el-Sisi in their phone call that beginning in 2018. that assistance would be channeled into specific categories, including counterterrorism and security in the contested Sinai region.
“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,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. “These measures put our assistance programs more in line with current core U.S. priorities.”
The Obama administration suspended its assistance to Egypt amid the army’s violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, who rallied in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsy, the Arab nation’s first democratically elected leader.
The Obama administration refused to label the incident a coup, which would have required cutting all humanitarian aid.
The 2013 decision to end military aid was a compromise move that allowed the U.S. government to maintain its relationship with Cairo while still exacting a price for the crackdown.