U.S. balancing act with Egypt grows trickier

In four weeks of quiet but intense diplomacy, the Obama administration has engaged in a balancing act, prodding Egypt’s generals to avoid violence and restore a democratic government while trying not to jeopardize any future influence on the military or undermine security arrangements that have been at the heart of a three-decade relationship.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has pleaded in multiple phone calls with the chief of the Egyptian armed forces, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, to change course, while administration lawyers found a legal justification to avoid having to cut off $1.5 billion a year in military aid.

The White House said Monday that it would hold Egypt’s military-backed government to its “moral and legal obligations,” even as it reiterated it had no plans to cut off aid, beyond a previously announced delay in the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets.

For the Obama administration, the problem is not simply its relationship with the Egyptian military but also with Israel, whose security interests are weighing particularly heavily on administration officials as they try to nurture a new round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.