By Julian Pecquet - 08/15/13 02:49 PM EDT
President Obama has canceled joint U.S.-Egypt military exercises scheduled for September in response to a violent military crackdown that has left at least 525 people dead. [WATCH VIDEO]
Obama also warned Egypt’s military leaders, who took over after toppling President Mohamed Morsi last month, that $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid could be on the chopping block.
“As a result, this morning, we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our biannual joint military exercise, which was scheduled for next month,” Obama said.
Obama has been under pressure to take stiff actions against Egypt’s military ever since it overthrew Morsi in an event the administration has refused to call a coup.
The administration has resisted taking tougher steps, arguing U.S. aid to Egypt gives it leverage on the new government.
But the violence on Wednesday, in which hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators were killed as the military closed camps the protestors had set up in the country, was too much for the administration to overlook, especially since Egypt’s military had ignored the administration’s repeated calls for calm.
At least 525 people, including 43 members of the police forces, were killed in raids against the encampments of protestors who oppose the removal of the nation's first freely elected president and his Muslim Brotherhood government on July 3.
An audibly irritated Obama said the United States “strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government,” including arbitrary arrests, the “broad crackdown” on Morsi and his supporters and Wednesday's violence.
“Going forward, I've asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship” Obama said.
Obama also condemned attacks by protesters, including on Coptic churches across the country, and reiterated his administration's call for an end to the monthlong state of emergency announced Wednesday.
Republicans pounced on the juxtaposed images of the president golfing while Egypt burned to portray a foreign policy in disarray, from the two-year-old civil war in Syria to the surge of terrorism in Iraq to last year's terror attack that killed four Americans in Libya. The president went right back to golfing after delivering his address, according to the White House press pool.
“From Benghazi to Cairo to Damascus to Baghdad we're failing across the board,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted Thursday. “President Obama's foreign policy is not working.”
Obama indirectly addressed those criticisms in his address, saying Egyptians, not the U.S. government, bear responsibility for Wednesday's events. The violence led the Arab world's most populous country to face its deadliest day since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak.
“I know it's tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States or the West or some other outside actor for what's gone wrong,” Obama said. “That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve.”
Obama has also been criticized in the press for his handling of Egypt.
The Washington Post editorial board on Thursday called the Obama administration “complicit” in Wednesday's crackdown. The board cited the administration's refusal to call Morsi's ouster a coup and suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid along with Secretary of State John Kerry's comments earlier this month that the military was “restoring democracy” when it ousted the nation's first freely elected president on July 3.
And The New York Times called on the president to “make clear his unequivocal opposition to the Egyptian military’s conduct” by “immediately suspending military aid and canceling joint military exercises scheduled for September.”
Anonymous administration officials told reporters on Wednesday that the White House was weighing a cancellation of the biennial exercises.
Kerry blasted the military's “deplorable” crackdown as a “serious blow” to peace and democracy during a five-minute declaration at Wednesday's daily State Department press briefing. He stopped short of announcing any aid cut, however.
The administration has said it's reviewing the aid in light of the recent events and the military's actions going forward, however. Last month, the Pentagon delayed indefinitely the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets.
“Our review of aid and our broad relationship is ongoing, and we’ve said that from the beginning,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “The world, as you heard the secretary say, is watching Egypt, and the situation, of course, is ongoing and … remains fluid.
“And obviously, the events today, looking at the events today and the events of the last couple of weeks, we’ll continue to not only monitor and be engaged, but we’ll review the implications for our broader relationship with Egypt, which includes aid.”
— This story was updated at 11:35 a.m.