Obama cancels joint exercise with Egyptian army

CHILMARK, Massachusetts (AP)

President Barack Obama on Thursday canceled joint military exercises with Egypt next month and said the United States “strongly condemns” the violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters that has killed more than 500.

It was his first statement on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Egypt, where spiraling violence prompted the government there to declare a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.

Obama still did not label the Egyptian military’s recent takeover as a coup ?a designation that would have forced a cutoff of more than $1 billion in U.S. aid a year. The army took power from Mohammed Morsi, a top Muslim Brotherhood official who became Egypt’s first democratically elected leader a year ago after the ouster of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.

“America cannot determine the future of Egypt,” Obama said. “That’s a task for the Egyptian people. We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure.”

Speaking from his weeklong vacation in Massachusetts, Obama directed his national security team to see what additional steps the U.S. might take.

The Bright Star military exercise has been a centerpiece of the two countries’ military relations for a decade, but with the army consumed by the chaos in Cairo and other major cities, it was not clear that the cancellation of the joint maneuvers would be seen as more than a symbolic move.

Obama explained his decision to cancel the exercises by saying, “Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual.”

Administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have condemned the violence. Kerry handled the administration’s initial response Wednesday, calling the violence “deplorable.”

As part of guarantees to Egypt when it made peace with Israel more than 30 years ago, the United States has been sending $1.3 billion in aid annually, most of it to the military. Fearing Washington might lose what leverage it has with the Egyptian army, the Obama administration so far has refused to call the military takeover in June a coup.

Obama has been criticized for that policy by both opponents and some supporters in the United States.

Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, resigned Wednesday in protest over the violence.

Kerry told reporters Wednesday that the crackdown is “a serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people’s hopes for a transition toward democracy and inclusion.”

(Copyright 2013  Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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