WASHINGTON — The U.S. is delaying delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in light of the military overthrow of Mohammed Morsi as president, but it has not decided whether to suspend military aid more broadly, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said President Barack Obama made the decision to hold up the F-16 delivery while the administration continues to review options and consult with Congress on military assistance generally.
The four F-16s were to be delivered under a previously arranged sale of 20. Eight of the F-16s were delivered earlier this year; after the four originally set for delivery this week the final eight were to be sent later this year.
Also on order by the Egyptian military are U.S.-made M1A1 Abrams tanks; the administration has not yet decided whether to go ahead with those.
The F-16 delay was the first direct action the U.S. has taken since the Egyptian military ousted Morsi and installed a new civilian government. Under U.S. law, military aid to a country that underwent a coup d'etat must be suspended. But the Obama administration says it is still trying to determine if what happened three weeks ago in Egypt was in fact a coup. Egypt is a key ally in the Middle East and the administration is reluctant to cut off the $1.3 billion aid package it sends to Cairo every year.
Little said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Egypt's military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, on Wednesday to discuss the administration's decision.
"We remain committed to the U.S.-Egypt defense relationship as it remains a foundation of our broader strategic partnership with Egypt and serves as pillar for regional stability," Little said.
"Moving forward, everything that we do and say will continue to be focused on hastening Egypt's return to a democratically elected government as soon as possible," he added.
Little said the Pentagon has decided to proceed as planned with a joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercise called Bright Star, which has been a centerpiece of the two countries' military relations for decades. Bright Star usually is held every other year, but the 2011 maneuvers were canceled following the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in January. This year's exercise is tentatively planned to begin in mid-September.
Little said there is no timetable for proceeding with the delivery of four F-16s under a previously arranged sale to Egypt, and he was not specific about the reasons for delaying it.
"Just given the overall situation in Egypt right now we thought it prudent to make this decision," he said, adding that it ultimately was Obama's decision. Other officials said a decision was prompted by the delivery schedule but the administration is still considering whether to impose a broader suspension on military assistance.