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Obama Calls On All Egyptians To Exercise Restraint


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Egypt's bloody crackdown against supporters of ousted President Morsi is reverberating around the world today. In Egypt there was more violence and mourning. In the United States, President Obama spoke out. He cancelled a joint military exercise with Egypt planned for next month. He urged the Egyptian government to respect the rights of peaceful protestors and he called on all sides to exercise restraint, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama says the U.S. still wants to be partner to Egypt, a country he calls a cornerstone for peace in the Middle East. But he condemned the government's deadly assault on anti-government demonstrators this week and he offered U.S. condolences to the families of hundreds who were killed or wounded.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let me say that the Egyptian people deserve better than what we've seen over the last several days. And to the Egyptian people, let me say, the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop.

HORSLEY: Even after the military toppled Egypt's democratically-elected president last month, Obama says the U.S. held out hope for reconciliation and a return to constitutional government. Instead, he says, Egyptian leaders have chosen a more dangerous path. Administration officials had already roundly condemned the government's crackdown, but speaking today from his vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, Obama said for the first time there will be consequences.

OBAMA: While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.

HORSLEY: The president cancelled a joint military exercise called Bright Star that the U.S. planned to hold with Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula next month. Obama says that may not be the only fallout.

OBAMA: Going forward, I've asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S./Egyptian relationship.

HORSLEY: This is not the first time the U.S. has cancelled a joint military exercise with Egypt. Another was scrubbed two years ago following the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak. Military analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says given the tensions in Egypt, this is hardly the time for a productive military exercise in any case.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: For the United States to try to hold Bright Star in that area, in the middle of this kind of tension, would be a major problem for both the United States and Egypt.

HORSLEY: The Obama administration has so far not moved to suspend military aid to Egypt, and in fact has deliberately avoided calling Morsi's ouster a coup, which would mean cutting off aid automatically. Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel but Cordesman says even the threat of losing that aid may not force cooperation from the Egyptian government.

CORDESMAN: To be really blunt, at this point in time, Egypt doesn't particularly need more tanks or combat aircraft. And that leaves the president really with very limited levers.

HORSLEY: Cordesman suggests military to military contact could have more persuasive power. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel telephoned his Egyptian counterpart today, saying the U.S. wants to maintain its military ties to Egypt but warning against any further violence. Obama says ultimately it's up to the Egyptian people to decide what path they follow.

He says while both supporters and opponents of former President Morsi have accused the United States of meddling in their country, in reality, his administration is not taking sides.

OBAMA: We want Egypt to succeed. We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That's our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work.

HORSLEY: Meanwhile, the State Department renewed its travel warning, urging Americans not to visit Egypt and advising those who are already in the country to leave. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.