U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday cancelled joint military exercises with the Egyptian military, saying Egypt is on a “more dangerous path.”
“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces,” Obama said from his vacation home on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard.
“We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest,” Obama said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, meanwhile, said he made it clear to his Egyptian counterpart Abdelfatah al-Sisi that “ the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk.”
“Since the recent crisis began, the United States has made it clear that the Egyptian government must refrain from violence, respect freedom of assembly, and move toward an inclusive political transition. Recent developments, including the violence that has resulted in hundreds of deaths across the country, have undermined those principles,” said Hagel.
Western diplomats have told Reuters that senior U.S. and European officials were in contact with Egypt’s rulers until the final hour, pleading with them not to order a military crackdown on the protest camps, where thousands of Mursi’s followers had been camped out since before he was toppled.
Obama said the United States had informed Egyptian authorities it had canceled a joint military drill named “Bright Star” that had been scheduled for next month.
The drill, dating back to 1981, is seen as a cornerstone of U.S.-Egyptian military relations and began after the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel.
“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,” Obama said.
“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.”
The joint military exercise, held every two years, was canceled in 2011 because of the political turmoil in Egypt following the ouster of longtime autocrat and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.