WASHINGTON – The Obama administration said Tuesday it has certified that Egypt is upholding its 35-year-old peace treaty with Israel and therefore qualifies for some military and counterterrorism assistance.
Secretary of State John Kerry informed Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, of the decision in a telephone call, crediting the Egyptian government with sustaining its strategic relationship with the United States and fulfilling its obligations to Israel, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The decision clears the way for the release of Apache helicopters to Egypt, which the United States has held up since July when the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed Egypt's defense minister, Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhi, of President Barack Obama's decision to deliver the Apaches in support of Egypt's counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, the Pentagon said.
"The secretary noted that we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian and Israeli security," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in outlining Hagel's call to his Egyptian counterpart. "This is one element of the president's broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terrorist threats, and is the United States' national security interest."
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, said in a statement late Tuesday that she was encouraged by the decision to deliver the helicopters, saying it was a critical time to support Egypt as it moves toward elections and deals with security challenges.
"As Egypt continues its transition toward a new democratic government, the United States must work with the government of Egypt and support the Egyptian people," Granger said.
Beyond the Apaches, the move allows the U.S. also to release some of its annual $1.3 billion military assistance package to Egypt, specifically those parts dealing with security in the Sinai Peninsula and counterterrorism efforts.
Kerry was to meet Egypt's intelligence chief in Washington on Wednesday.
The notification deals specifically with Egypt's adherence to the Camp David Accords and not its progression toward democratic rule.
Psaki said Kerry "noted that he is not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition. He urged Egypt to follow through on its commitment to transition to democracy, including by conducting free, fair and transparent elections, and easing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and the media."
The administration notified Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid. Leahy has written legislative language restricting military aid to Egypt. He has argued that U.S. law is clear: When a military coup occurs, U.S. aid should be cut off.
The administration's decision means aid is now flowing to the Egyptian military.
Sending a full certification to Congress for the resumption of Egypt aid would signal U.S. approval for Egypt's path toward a return to democracy.
Once Kerry issues that certification, the U.S. can resume other military and civilian assistance programs.