July 8th, 2013
08:53 PM ET

U.S. avoids calling Egypt's uprising a coup

By Elise Labott

While America's top military officials continue in-depth discussions with their counterparts in Egypt, the Obama administration is looking how to map America's relations with the crucial Middle East ally.

Top officials huddled at the White House again on Monday to discuss the issue.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel once again talked with Gen. Abdel Fattah al Sisi, Egypt's defense minister.

It's at least the fourth time Hagel has spoken to Sisi in the past week, both before and after his military deposed Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy, and put him under house arrest.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the conversations "have been lengthy and very candid."

A defense official, who requested anonymity, says some of the calls "have lasted nearly two hours."

Meanwhile, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has also had two calls with the chief of staff of Egypt's armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sedki Sobhi.

The importance of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, which has been developing since the Carter-era Camp David Peace Accords, is evidenced by how carefully government officials are avoiding labeling the past week's developments a "military coup."

If Morsy's removal were to be called a coup, under U.S. law, more than $1 billion in military aid to Egypt would have to be slashed.

Israel is concerned that such a cut could jeopardize the peace treaty between the two countries

Israel and Egypt are the two biggest recipients of American military aid.

The determination of whether a coup took place is generally made by the State Department's Legal Advisor Office.

But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described it as an interagency process on Monday.

Psaki also said that the fact tens of millions of Egyptians supported the move and did not consider this a coup would be factored into the deliberations.

Senior U.S. officials say the administration is examining three potential options – calling events in Egypt a coup and cutting off aid; calling it a coup and issuing a national security waiver; or not determining it a coup, recognizing that the military has taken steps to move the country toward a civilian transitional government and move toward elections.

White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested what happens next will be very important.

"Our relationship with Egypt is not limited to or defined solely by the assistance that we provide to Egypt. It is broader and deeper than that, and it is bound up in America's support for the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy, for a better economic and political future, and we support that," Carney said.

"So our decisions with regards to the events that have happened recently in Egypt will be - and how we label them and analyze them will be made with our policy objectives in mind, in accordance with the law and in accordance with any consultation with Congress," he said.

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Filed under: Dempsey • Egypt • Mohammed Morsy • State Department
June 18th, 2013
10:59 AM ET

Security handover, diplomacy in Afghanistan. A new chapter?

By Kyle Almond, Elise Labott and Joe Sterling

Hope flickered in war-torn Afghanistan on Tuesday as national security forces formally took over security leadership and peace talks with the Taliban are now in the works.

NATO-led troops transferred security responsibility to Afghan forces. The United States and an Afghan government group dedicated to peace and reconciliation will hold talks with the Taliban militant group in Qatar.

"I wish a long-term peace in Afghanistan," Afghan President Harmid Karzai told his troops at a handover ceremony in Kabul.

But a senior U.S. official said reconciliation is likely to be "long, complex and messy" because trust between Afghans and the Taliban is extremely low.

The latest moves could portend a hopeful chapter in the long and costly Afghan conflict. What do these developments mean for Afghanistan and the United States?

Analysis: Kerry ready to dirty hands in diplomatic deal-making
May 7th, 2013
01:52 PM ET

Analysis: Kerry ready to dirty hands in diplomatic deal-making

By Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was just after 1 a.m. in Istanbul when John Kerry emerged from the Friends of Syria meeting, flanked by Turkey's foreign minister, Qatar's prime minister and Moaz al-Khatib, leader of Syria's political opposition.

The meeting between the Syrian opposition and foreign ministers from 11 of Syria's main backers ran hours past the original deadline. The gathering was intended to get the opposition and international community on the same page about the pace and scope of aid, but it devolved into an extended argument about what one diplomat called "competing agendas" among the supporters.

Kerry took the reins in negotiating the communique, line by line, not letting anyone leave the room until it was finished. In the statement, the group agreed to channel all military assistance through the military council of the U.S.-backed Syrian National Coalition, a significant stab in curbing the escalating influence of al Qaeda-linked groups that have joined the effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry also pushed the opposition to make strong and verifiable commitments to reject extremism and adhere to pluralism and human rights.

After taking questions from the press, Kerry went back into a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and al-Khatib, returning to his hotel well past 3 a.m.

Read the full story on cnn.com/politics.


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Filed under: John Kerry