Egypt violence: US hardens its tone, but is criticized as too soft (+video)
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the crackdown by Egypt's military but announced no sanctions, leaving critics to suggest US policy toward a key Mideast partner is ineffectual.
The United States hardened its rhetoric toward Egyptâ€™s rulers in the wake of Wednesdayâ€™s repressive violence, which left scores of Egyptians dead. But it stopped short of slapping the countryâ€™s military leaders with any practical sanctions â€“ deepening the sense of a US policy toward a key Mideast partner that is both passive and incoherent.
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the Egyptian militaryâ€™s crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi as â€śdeplorable.â€ť In a statement to reporters Wednesday afternoon, he said reaching a political solution to Egyptâ€™s deteriorating crisis â€śhas been made much, much harder, and much, much more complicated by the events of today.â€ť
The US also â€śstrongly opposesâ€ť the military leadershipâ€™s declaration of a â€śstate of emergency,â€ť Secretary Kerry said. He called on Egyptâ€™s rulers to end the state of emergency â€śas soon as possible.â€ť
Violence appeared to be spreading across Egypt after security forces stormed the Cairo camps of protesters led by Mr. Morsiâ€™s Muslim Brotherhood.Â
Kerryâ€™s statement appeared in part to be an effort to correct an impression of US passivity left earlier in the day by a White House spokesman who said â€śthe world is watchingâ€ť events unfolding in Egypt. But State Department officials were at pains to explain why the militaryâ€™s repressive violence, undertaken despite intense US diplomatic efforts last week to avoid such an outcome, did not result in any consequences.
The US annually provides $1.6 billion in assistance to Egypt, most of it in military aid.
State Department officials say the US continues to review its policy toward Egypt in light of events there, but they suggest the Obama administration continues to believe that it would be neither in US national security interests nor in the interest of regional stability for the US to cut or suspend aid to Egyptâ€™s military rulers.
Administration officials also intimate that US-mandated consequences would be unlikely to compel Egyptâ€™s rulers to take certain actions or to follow a different path anyway.
â€śWe canâ€™t force a solution here,â€ť said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking with reporters after Kerryâ€™s statement. â€śWe can play a productive role.â€ť
Rather than emphasizing consequences, at least for now, the US will continue to press Egyptâ€™s interim civilian government and military rulers to refrain from violence and instead turn wholeheartedly to fostering a political transition that includes free and inclusive elections and the delivery of a new constitution.
â€śOur focus is on getting back to a sustainable path to democracy,â€ť Ms. Psaki said.
The US response echoed that of other world powers, including the European Union, which last week joined the US on a diplomatic mission to Cairo to dissuade Egyptian authorities from resorting to violence in the standoff with Morsi supporters. Egyptâ€™s military rulers rebuffed the international efforts at reconciliation, deeming them a â€śfailure.â€ť
EU officials condemned Wednesdayâ€™s violence and urged restraint. â€śThe reports of deaths and injuries are extremely worrying,â€ť said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. â€śWe reiterate that violence wonâ€™t lead to any solution and we urge the Egyptian authorities to proceed with utmost restraint.â€ť
But many human rights organizations found the US position wanting, and urged the Obama administration to shift course and to underscore its condemnation of Egyptâ€™s violence by suspending aid.
â€śThe US government should suspend military aid to Egypt immediately, to reinforce the White Houseâ€™s statement condemning the violence against protesters, and show that there are consequences for the Egyptian militaryâ€™s unbridled violence against its own people,â€ť said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president at Freedom House, a Washington-based watchdog of freedom and human rights worldwide.
The US should have suspended aid â€ślong ago due to ongoing violations,â€ť Mr. Calingaert added. Still, â€śdoing so now would convey to the Egyptian people, and the world, that the US government does not condone this slaughter,â€ť he said.
Another rights organization, Human Rights First, said the US should signal a get-tough shift in its Egypt policy â€śby immediately suspending military assistance to Egypt and making a clear protest about todayâ€™s actions by the security forces.â€ť
The New York-based organization also warned that a weak response by the US to Egyptâ€™s repressive acts could suggest to other regimes in the region facing protests that they risk little by resorting to violence.
â€śPerceived US passivity in the face of the Egyptian governmentâ€™s crackdown will make it easier for other US allies, like Bahrain, to use similar tactics against their own protest movements, thereby escalating conflicts throughout the region,â€ť said Human Rights First international policy adviser Neil Hicks. â€śIt also undermines US credibility in its calls for President Assad and the Syrian regime to end its violent assault on civilians seen as supportive of the US-backed Syrian opposition.â€ť