WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – US President Barack Obama notified the Egyptian military
by phone on Thursday that “traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual”
between the two nations so long as civilian demonstrators are being shot and
killed in the streets of Egypt.
Speaking while on vacation in Martha’s
Vineyard, Massachusetts, Obama lamented that Egypt’s military has chosen to walk
down a “dangerous path,” as the death toll climbed past 550 and thousands more
were reported wounded in two days of bloodshed.
“We deplore violence
against civilians,” he said. “We oppose the pursuit of martial
Canceling Operation Bright Star, a biennial military exercise
between the US and Egypt in Sinai that began in 1980, the president also
directed his national security team to reassess other aspects of the
relationship between the two nations.
Obama spoke as the military
crackdown across Egypt continued against supporters of ousted president Mohamed
Morsi. The assault has taken the lives of over 500 civilians and has injured
thousands more as the violence has spread nationwide.
The president held
a conference call from Massachusetts with his secretaries of state, defense and
other top national security figures, during which he decided to cancel the
exercise and directed the team to examine other possible
Obama canceled Bright Star in 2011 as well, when the
catalyzing Egyptian revolution overthrew longtime leader Hosni
“We don’t take sides with any particular party or political
figure,” Obama said. “We appreciate the complexity of the
Obama said that Morsi’s government “was not inclusive,”
though democratically elected. He noted that the US relationship with Egypt goes
back decades and that the largest Arab nation represents a “cornerstone for
peace in the Middle East.”
The president refrained from directly
addressing US aid to Egypt, which amounts to roughly $1.4 billion
Most of those dollars are in turn spent on defense contracts
with American firms.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other
Sunni-ruled states in the Middle East have increased aid to the military in
recent months, dwarfing the American package by over $10b.
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday that nobody in the government
thinks that the cancellation of Bright Star alone will change the situation on
the ground, and said the US “will continue to assess our aid in all
The US was “outraged” by attacks on Coptic Christians and
government facilities by pro-Morsi demonstrators, Psaki said, calling on both
sides not to disrupt “an already fragile atmosphere.”
peacefully should not be labeled terrorists,” Psaki added.
the deaths of four Egyptian soldiers who were killed in Sinai by terrorists,
Psaki referred to the desert as an “area of concern” but said the terrorist
groups were “loosely knit.” Roughly 700 US soldiers are positioned in
On Wednesday, a visibly frustrated Secretary Kerry warned Egypt to
end its state of emergency as soon as possible and called the violence
“deplorable.” A peaceful transition to civilian rule will be “much, much harder”
to achieve as the casualty count climbs, Kerry said, noting that the military
and interim government held the “preponderance of power” in the
“I believe they know full well what a constructive process
would look like,” he said. “The state of emergency should end as soon as
Morsi protesters were digging in on Thursday, vowing to
disobey the army so long as the former president remains in custody and out of
As state media reported the death toll had topped 525, the United
Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent
investigation into the killings.
“There must be an independent,
impartial, effective and credible investigation of the conduct of the security
forces. Anyone found guilty of wrongdoing should be held to account,”
Pillay said in a statement issued in Geneva.
Pillay’s office also
acknowledged the conflicting reports about how many Egyptians had died. While
the current government had announced 525 dead, the recently ousted Muslim
Brotherhood said the number was closer to 2,000.
Either way, Pillay,
said, the number of people dead “points to an excessive, even extreme use of
force against demonstrators.”
She urged security forces to “act with full
respect for human rights, including the rights to free speech and peaceful
assembly,” and the demonstrators – some of whom were accused of being heavily
armed – to “ensure that their gatherings remain peaceful.”
State Department on Thursday warned US citizens to defer travel to Egypt and US
citizens living in Egypt to depart immediately, because of the continuing
political and social unrest.