US lifts freeze, will deliver Apache choppers to Egypt

The United States will lift a suspension on the delivery of Apache helicopters to Egypt after concluding Cairo has upheld its peace treaty with Israel, US officials said Tuesday.

Despite concerns about Egypt's failure to embrace democratic reforms following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, the US government will provide Cairo with 10 Apache aircraft, officials said.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel informed Egyptian Defense Minister General Sedki Sobhy of President Barack Obama's decision in a phone call Tuesday, his spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

The choppers are meant to bolster counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, he said.

"The secretary noted that we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten US, Egyptian, and Israeli security," the statement said.

To signal its displeasure with Cairo's crackdown on dissent, the Obama administration had imposed a temporary freeze on the delivery of major weapons to Egypt, including the Apache helicopters as well as fighter jets and other hardware.

But the United States has struggled to balance its concerns over human rights abuses with a strategic interest in keeping up counter-terrorism ties with Cairo and maintaining the Egypt-Israel peace accord.

As a result, Washington has chosen not to cut off all aid to Egypt's military-backed government and avoided officially labeling the ouster of Morsi a coup.

Hagel told his counterpart that US Secretary of State John Kerry will "soon certify to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty," Kirby said.

The certifications are required before US government funds can be allocated to Egypt, he said.

Hagel, however, told the Egyptian minister that "we are not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition," Kirby said.

Hagel "urged the Egyptian government to demonstrate progress on a more inclusive transition that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians."

Kerry delivered a similar message to Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Kerry told his counterpart Egypt was carrying out its obligations under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and that Cairo remained an important strategic partner for the United States, she said in a statement.

But Kerry said he could not certify that Egypt was pursuing a "democratic transition" and urged the government to conduct "free, fair, and transparent elections," and ease restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and the media, she said.

© 2014 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Apr 23, 2014