(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration acknowledged that its appeals to Egyptian authorities not to crack down on opponents of the military takeover had failed but signaled no direct consequences or policy shift as a result of Wednesday’s bloodshed and return to emergency rule.
Secretary of State John Kerry and a spokesman for President Obama – on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard – both condemned violence that left hundreds dead when the military moved to clear protest camps set up supporters of the ousted president, Mohammed Morsi.
“In the past week, at every occasion, perhaps even more than the past week, we and others have urged the government to respect the rights of free assembly and of free expression,” Kerry said at the State Department.
He said he was convinced a political solution remained possible, “though it has been made much, much harder, much more complicated, by the events of today.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki conceded that U.S. attempts in recent days to persuade the military not to use force to clear the protests had failed.
But despite the fact that one of the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance – $1.3 billion a year – flouted direct entreaties from Washington, she would only repeat what the administration has been saying since the July 3 ousting of Morsi – that it continues to evaluate the relationship with Egypt, a relationship that includes the provision of aid.
Psaki said the focus was on returning to “a sustainable path to democracy” – a phrase she used a dozen times during Wednesday’s briefing.
She repeatedly declined to be drawn on whether the administration believes its policies on Egypt since July 3 have advanced U.S. national interests.
“It’s not about responding to one day. We’re talking about our larger strategic interest, our national security interests in the region, the role that Egypt plays,” Psaki said. “Certainly there have been some significant bumps in the road, but our focus is on getting back to a sustainable path to democracy, and that’s what we’re working on every single day.”
Since the military removed Morsi from office, U.S. engagement has included multiple calls by Kerry, outreach to the Egyptian military by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and a six-day visit last week by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
“I’ve been in touch with all of the players there,” Kerry told a television interviewer in Pakistan last week. “And we have made it clear that that [using violence to clear the protests] is absolutely unacceptable, it cannot happen.”
Kerry raised eyebrows when in the same interview he said that when the military took over on July 3, “in effect, they were restoring democracy.”Kerry’s priorities questioned
The administration’s response to the crisis has been criticized as dithering, ineffectual and antagonizing to all sides of the conflict in Egypt – unwilling to use aid as a lever either against the Muslim Brotherhood when it was in power to end abuses and rigging of the system, or against the military since the takeover to hasten a restoration of civilian government.
Since taking up his post Kerry has directed his energies towards restarting stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, portraying that issue as an urgent priority at a time when other parts of the region are in turmoil.As tensions in Egypt were mounting in recent days following a military deadline for the pro-Morsi protesters to disperse, Kerry’s attention was absorbed with ensuring the Israeli-P.A. talks went ahead – and they did resume, in Jerusalem under a media blackout, hours after Wednesday’s violence in Cairo.
In public comments during visits this week to Colombia and Brazil Kerry had very little to say about Egypt, but did speak at length about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, specifically about Israeli announcements of new housing construction in disputed areas.
After Wednesday’s violence in Cairo Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, likened the administration’s approach to the Middle East to “worrying about an overdue library book as you’re being evicted from your home.”
“With the current turmoil in Egypt, the ongoing bloodbath in Syria, and Iran’s continued progress toward full nuclear breakout capacity, Secretary Kerry must prioritize U.S. national security interests and focus on the imminent threats facing the region, the U.S. and our allies,” she said.
“Instead of using what little political capital we have left on the [Israeli-Palestinian] peace process, the administration should deal with the current situation in Syria, Egypt, and Iran, which more directly threaten U.S. national security interests in the region.”