The State Department last week put itself on the defensive over the Obama administration’s policy toward Egypt’s army-backed government – which has ranged from a controversial aid freeze last October to a pointed diplomatic snub as recently as two weeks ago – with State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf being pressed for the second day in a row to account for what very much seems to be an Egyptian pivot away from the U.S. and toward Russia.
QUESTION: But would you – considering that the United States is the main supplier of arms to Egypt, would you discourage the Egyptians from seeking an arms deal with the Russians?
MS. HARF: Well, I think – again, I’m not entirely sure that’s what they’re doing. I’m happy to check with our folks before I do analysis on the visit.
QUESTION: And one more on Egypt. Are you concerned about the rapprochement between one of your main allies in the region, which is Egypt and Russia?
MS. HARF: Oh, I think it’s with the question Said asked. Obviously, we know a lot of countries have interests in Egypt and want to build relationships with Egypt going forward. I don’t want to say by definition those are either always bad or always good. I just want to look into the specifics of this visit and see if we have more details on that.
A trip to Russia by Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was broadly seen as evidence that Cairo was making good on previous suggestions that it might turn to Moscow for arms should Washington continue to chill bilateral ties. For their part the Russians treated the visit as an opportunity to launch a charm offensive geared at expanding its influence over Egypt and the region. The events came a day after Harf told reporters that the U.S. would “continue talking to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of our broad outreach to the different parties and groups there,” in the face of a designation by Egypt declaring the group to be a terrorist organization. Pressed to respond to a joint Russian-Egyptian communique “condemning meddling in… domestic affairs by foreign nations,” which was “seen on the ground as a poke at the United States” over its outreach to the Brotherhood, Harf declared that U.S. officials “don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr. Putin to decide who should govern Egypt… [i]t’s up to the Egyptian people to decide.” It is unclear to what degree Putin, or for that matter the Egyptian people, agree with the State Department’s stance.
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