By Carlo Muñoz - 10/09/13 10:28 PM EDT
The White House is indefinitely suspending millions of dollars in military hardware and foreign aid to Egypt, in the wake of the interim government's violent crackdown on opponents of the current regime.
"We have decided to maintain our relationship with the Egyptian government, while recalibrating our assistance to Egypt to best advance our interests," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
Washington will continue to provide assistance to Egyptian-led counterterrorism, counterproliferation and border security operations, Psaki said in a department statement.
But proposed sales of F-16 fighter jets, M1 Abrams tanks and Apache attack helicopters have been shelved, as well as nearly $260 million in cash assistance to the country, according to the White House.
The suspension of military aid to Cairo represents a "recalibration" of Washington's long-standing military and diplomatic ties with Egypt, in light of the ongoing political turmoil in the country, the official said.
The decision "sends a pretty clear message" the White House needs to see some progress in the Egyptian interim government sooner rather than later, a second White House official said Wednesday.
"We can't go about this relationship as business as usual ... and they hear us," the official told reporters.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed Egyptian defense minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of the military aid suspensions on Wednesday.
Hagel informed al-Sisi the Pentagon will also continue to train and mentor the Egyptian armed forces in antiterrorism, border security and other critical missions to the country's security, a third White House official told reporters.
During the conversation, Hagel reemphasized Egypt's key role in maintaining regional stability and supporting American security goals in that part of the world, the official said.
"At the same time ... the U.S. has made clear" the relationship had to change with Egypt, which included the holds on military sales to Cairo, Hagel told al-Sisi.
The third official declined to comment on whether al-Sisi pushed back against the cuts, characterizing the exchange as "cordial" and adding that the weapon systems put on hold will not put in danger "Egypt's ability to be a strong partner" in regional security efforts with the United States.
"Both [leaders] wanted to take the steps needed" to allow military support to restart, the official said, noting Hagel and al-Sisi "are committed to maintaining that [relationship]" between the two countries' armed forces.
The suspension of U.S. military sales and foreign aid put in place Wednesday is reversible, the second official said.
"This is not meant to be permanent, this is meant to be continually reviewed" and not presented as "definitive end to any specific [military] programs," the official said Wednesday.
Sales "will be restored at some point," but only after Cairo shows progress toward a peaceful and stable political transition, the official added.
That said, administration officials will conduct periodic reviews of the current political situation in Egypt, while continuing to support Cairo's political transition in an "atmosphere free of violence and intimidation," according to Psaki.
The White House plans to work closely with Congress, to ensure proper authorities are in place to restart the suspended military sales and financial aid to Egypt, once President Obama gives the green light, the second official added.
In August, Pentagon leaders indicated an adjustment to U.S.-Egyptian military ties would be needed, as clashes between Egypt's interim leaders and anti-government leaders spilled into the streets of Cairo.
"There will be adjustments, but I do not know how much you can read into that yet," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon at the time.
Earlier that month, Obama canceled deliveries of F-16 fighters to the North African country, as well as a large-scale military exercise between American and Egyptian forces, known as Bright Star, in response to the ongoing violence.
Egyptian troops flushed out supporters of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from their camps in Cairo and elsewhere during rolling clashes in Cairo and elsewhere in August.
The clashes between pro-Morsi protesters and military troops ended with more than 500 killed in the ensuing melees.
Morsi, the nation's first freely elected president, and his Muslim Brotherhood government were forced out of power on July 3.