No worries: White House downplays Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt

Special to

WASHINGTON — The United States has played down the dismissal of
Egypt’s military command by its new Islamist president.

The administration of President Barack Obama asserted that the dismissal
of the military command by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi would not
affect relations with the United States.

Pentagon spokesman George Little. /AP/Luis M. Alvarez

The administration said it expected those appointed by Morsi, Egypt’s first Islamist president, to maintain defense and military cooperation with Washington.

“The United States and the Department of Defense in particular look
forward to continuing a very close relationship with the SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces],” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

In a briefing on Aug. 13, Little said the administration was not
surprised by Morsi’s dismissal of the pro-American officers on the ruling military council. The Egyptian president replaced the chairman of council, Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, regarded as the leading interlocutors of the Pentagon and now reported to be under house arrest.

“We had expected President Morsi at some point to coordinate changes in
the military leadership, to name a new team,” Little said.

Morsi’s dismissal of the military and intelligence command came less
than two weeks after a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. During
his visit on July 31, Panetta said he received assurances by Tantawi that Egypt would
remain a strong defense ally of Washington.

The 76-year-old Tantawi was replaced Gen. Abdul Fatah Sisi, head of
military intelligence. Sisi has been linked to the ruling Brotherhood

“The new defense minister is someone who’s known to us,” Little said.
“He comes from within the ranks of the SCAF, and we believe we’ll be able to
continue the strong partnership that we have with Egypt.”

Little said Panetta has not yet spoken to Sisi. The spokesman said the
defense secretary hoped to do so “at the earliest possible moment.”

“It’s important for both the military and civilians leaders in Egypt to
work together to address the economic and security challenges facing that
country,” Little said.

Officials said several of the members of the new military command
underwent training in the United States. They did not elaborate.

Egypt represents the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid, with
$1.3 billion annually. Congress has passed legislation that requires Obama
to certify that Cairo was honoring its commitments to democracy, human
rights and security cooperation with Israel and the United States.

“We obviously did know that there were discussions ongoing about a new
defense team — with regard to the precise timing, less so.” State
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “But when the Secretary [of
State Hillary Clinton] was in Egypt, we knew that there would be a change in
an appropriate moment and that it would be discussed between the civilian
leadership and the military.”

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