By Barbara Starr
President Barack Obama has decided to delay the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in a sign of U.S. pressure for the military there to move quickly restore civilian rule following its ouster of President Mohamed Morsy.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Egypt’s military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, on Wednesday to inform him of the decision.
Hagel and al-Sisi also discussed the general’s call on Wednesday for mass demonstrations in Egypt for support of the military.
The Obama administration has so far not called Morsy’s removal earlier this month a military coup, which could cut more than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt if that characterization is made.
Obama has expressed deep concern about the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, calling for a quick return to civilian leadership. He also ordered a review of U.S. law regarding aid to the vital Middle East ally.
The four jets were due to be sent to Egypt by the end of August as part of a $1.3 billion arms package that included additional F-16s and some Abrams tank parts.
It has not been decided when or if the F-16 deliveries will resume, Little said. Also not clear is what conditions the United States would impose on their delivery or whether the balance of the overall arms sale would be met.
Little also said the administration will still proceed with its major military exercise known as “Bright Star” scheduled with the Egyptians for later this year.
The delay will not significantly impact Egypt’s military capabilities. But it is a sign of U.S. pressure to get Egypt to move quickly toward civilian rule.
Little said the decision was made “given the overall situation” in Egypt, but added the administration still hasn’t made a decision on the question whether events in Egypt should be called a coup.
Little said the United States was not suspending its overall arms sales to Egypt currently.
Earlier this month, administration officials said they expected the four aircraft to be delivered even as the White House was continuing to review assistance programs with Egypt.