The U.S. has decided to delay the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, as part of the second installment of a military-aid package of 20 aircraft, in the wake of political uncertainty in the North African nation, Pentagon spokesman George Little said, on Wednesday.
The announcement marks a U-turn in Washington’s stance from two weeks ago, when U.S. officials said that the Pentagon will proceed with the delivery of jets, despite the political turmoil in Egypt. And, the latest decision reflects U.S. pressure on Egypt’s military to quickly restore democracy and order, after a military-backed interim government was instituted on July 4, a day after former President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown.
“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,” Little told a press conference, according to media reports. “We remain committed to the US-Egypt defense relationship as it remains a foundation of our broader strategic partnership with Egypt and serves as a pillar of regional stability.”
The Pentagon said defense secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to Egypt’s military chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, on Wednesday, to inform him of the decision, CNN reported.
Washington has refused, so far, to label the ouster of Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi as a coup. Under U.S. law, the country will be required to stop the $1.5 billion in defense aid to the Egyptian army, and halt the delivery of jets, which are part of the aid program, if it confirms that a coup occurred in Egypt.
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The four jets were scheduled to be sent to Egypt by the end of August, after eight F-16 jets were delivered in January, while the final eight were expected to be sent later this year.
The Pentagon said the resumption of deliveries is still under discussion and that no timeframe has been set so far. It remains to be seen if the U.S. would impose conditions to resume the delivery of the jets or whether it would halt military aid altogether this year.
However, Little said the U.S. is not currently planning to stop arms sales to Egypt. He added that the U.S. will proceed with a routine joint-military exercise with Egypt, known as “Bright Star,” which is scheduled to be conducted later this year.
The delay of the jets is not expected to severely impact Egypt’s military capabilities, but it puts Egypt’s military leaders under pressure to restore normalcy and civilian rule in the country, where a deep rift exists between the supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their liberal opponents.