Pentagon delays fighter sales to Egypt

Pentagon leaders are backing off plans to hand over American warplanes to Egypt as political unrest grips the country.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of the department's decision to delay initial deliveries of four F-16 fighters.

"Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s," Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters on Wednesday. 

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While the Department of Defense is temporarily blocking the fighter sales, it will proceed with plans for bilateral military exercises with Egyptian forces, known as "Bright Star," slated for this year, according to the Pentagon. 

That said, the Pentagon still anticipates completing the F-16 fighter sale to Egypt in the future, a Defense official told The Hill. 

"It is our plan to continue delivering these jets in the future," the official said, adding that deliveries of "other defense articles," such as helicopters and other weapon systems to Egypt, will continue unimpeded. 

U.S. national security officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are also debating whether to proceed with this year's annual $1.3 billion military assistance package to Cairo. About two-thirds of the military aid to Egypt for this fiscal year has already been obligated, according to Senate appropriators.

The White House has declined to label the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi a coup, which would require the administration to immediately cut off foreign aid.

Outstanding questions about how Egypt's interim government will reinstate democratic rule will be key in the administration's decision to restart the F-16 deal and continue U.S. military support to the country. 

The fighter delay announced Wednesday also provides additional time for Congress to decide on how to proceed with the current level of U.S. military support to Egypt, according to the Defense official.

The combustible political situation in Egypt has renewed calls by congressional Republicans to end U.S. military support to the country.

Earlier this month, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation to end all military funding to Egypt.

His legislation was prompted in no small part to the administration's previous insistence to press ahead with the F-16 sale to Cairo and Obama's refusal to characterize Morsi's ouster as a military coup. 

“By the President’s refusal to call the situation in Egypt a ‘coup’ and continuing the flow of foreign assistance to Egypt, he is forthrightly saying, ‘I am ignoring the rule of law,'” Paul said on July 11, a week after the Egyptian military forced Morsi from power.

It is the second time the Kentucky Republican has tried to block the F-16 sale to Egypt. Earlier this year, the Senate defeated by a 79-19 vote, a Paul amendment that would have banned military sales to Egypt after legal charges were introduced against 43 nongovernmental organization workers, including 16 Americans.

The administration's "prudent" decision to halt the fighter sale was necessary given the political turmoil engulfing Egypt in the wake of Morsi's ouster earlier this year, Little said Wednesday.

Adli Mansour was sworn in as Egypt’s interim president on July 4, shortly after Morsi was taken into custody by the Egyptian military. 

At the time, el-Sisi also announced the army would be spearheading the creation of a new technocratic government for Egypt. 

The publicly backed military intervention that led to Morsi's ouster came after his Muslim Brotherhood government sought to consolidate its power while failing to fix the country's economy.

— This story was updated at 12:32 p.m.