Hagel Admits U.S. Influence in Egypt Is ‘Limited’

Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel spoke about Egypt on Monday during a joint Pentagon press conference with China's defense minister, Gen. Change Wanquan. Aug. 19, 2013

DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

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Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel spoke about Egypt on Monday during a joint Pentagon press conference with China's defense minister, Gen. Change Wanquan. Aug. 19, 2013

In his first public remarks about the violence in Egypt, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says “it will be their responsibility to sort this out.” By Kevin Baron

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel admitted what long has become obvious by saying on Monday that there was little left the U.S. could do to stop the ongoing violence in Egypt as military and security forces there continued a bloody crackdown on opposition protestors and leaders.

Our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited,” Hagel said, in his first publicly spoken remarks about Egypt since July 31.

Hagel said the Pentagon would continue to work with the Egyptian military and interim government, repeating President Obama’s calls for a stop to the violence that has reportedly claimed more than 1,000 lives.

But the defense secretary declined to answer specific questions about whether there was anything more concrete the U.S. should do to pressure Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, including withholding Egypt’s $1.3 billion foreign aid package or further delaying shipments of Apache helicopters. “We are reviewing all aspects of our relationship,” Hagel said, noting that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait still have “committed to a considerable amount of assistance to Egypt.”

“There’s not a consistent call from Capitol Hill one way or the other,” about whether to cancel aid to Egypt, he added.  

The Obama administration, which Hagel joined in late February, since the start of the Arab spring more than two years ago has taken a realpolitik approach to the region by choosing to side with security and stability while trying to avoid becoming entangled in each country’s own steps toward democratization, despite allegations of human rights violations being ignored in Bahrain, where the U.S. maintains a significant Navy base in the Persian Gulf, and calls in Congress for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria.

“We have serious interests in Egypt and that part of the world. This is a very complicated problem. We continue to work with all the parties to try to help as much as we can facilitate a reconciliation, a stop to the violence,” Hagel said. “It’s up to the Egyptian people, and they are a large and great, sovereign nation. And it will be their responsibility to sort this out. All nations are limited in their influence in another nations’ internal issues. I don’t think the United States is without influence, but that has to be a collaborative effort, focused on what the Egyptian people want, supporting the Egyptian people, and we believe… that should come as an inclusive, open, democratic process.”

[Related: The Pentagon Has Lost Its Leverage with Egypt. Now What?]

Hagel’s comments came during a press conference with China’s visiting defense minister, Gen. Chang Wanquan. Hagel said he accepted an invitation to visit China in 2014.

Hagel also announce he was departing this week on a Southeast Asia trip to an ASEAN minister’s conference in Brunei, with stops in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. 

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