Egypt president welcomes release of withheld U.S. military aid

Egypt had been arguing it needs the tanks, fighter jets and missiles to face growing threats from extremists

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Egypt’s president on Wednesday welcomed the restoration of U.S. military aid, a victory in his quest to eliminate some of the last international penalties on his government following his 2013 overthrow of the country’s elected Islamist president.

In a statement, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said U.S. President Barack Obama called him a day earlier and affirmed interest in enhancing bilateral relations and military and security cooperation.

“President el-Sissi asserted that the continuation of U.S. military assistance to Egypt and the resumption of military transactions contributes to the common strategic objectives of both countries, notably in the fields of combating terrorism and extremism, and maintaining security, particularly in (the) Sinai (Peninsula),” the statement said.

The White House said Tuesday that Obama notified el-Sissi that the U.S. would be sending 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 missiles and up to 125 tank kits, while continuing to request $1.3 billion a year in military assistance. The move restores Egypt as the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign military financing worldwide.

The arms funding had been suspended 21 months ago when el-Sissi, then military chief, overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Until now, Washington could not provide much of the annual aid package because it could not certify that el-Sissi’s government had made advances on democracy, human rights and rule of law.

The Obama administration decided to release the aid on other grounds, saying that it was needed because it was in the interests of U.S. national security.

Despite the suspension of military aid, the U.S. had been providing hundreds of millions of dollars in arguably more important counterterrorism assistance to its ally.

Egypt had been arguing it needs the tanks, fighter jets and missiles to face growing threats from extremists creeping over the border from lawless Libya or operating in the northern Sinai.

The offices of both leaders said the two also discussed human rights in Sissi’s Egypt, which Washington says it is concerned about and Cairo says it is addressing.

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