Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel phoned Egypt's military leader Wednesday to tell him that the delivery of F-16 attack aircraft was being suspended -- a sign of growing U.S. discontent with the pace of the promised return to democratic rule.
"We do not believe it's appropriate at this time to move forward" on sending the four F16 Fighting Falcons to the Egyptian Air Force, said George Little, the chief Pentagon spokesman. "Just given the overall situation, we thought it prudent to make this decision," Little said.
Little said Hagel had discussed with Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, the Egyptian defense minister, al-Sissi's call for mass demonstrations on Friday in support of the military and against the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, Little declined comment on whether the suspension of the F-16 shipment was intended to send al-Sissi the message to stay out of politics. Little also wouldn't comment on what Egypt had to do to get the U.S. to resume delivery of the F-16s.
Shortly after the July 3 military action that ousted elected President Mohammed Morsi, the Pentagon said that the delivery of the F-16s would be completed by the end of July. The White House also declined to define the military takeover as a coup, which would have required the U.S. under the Foreign Assistance Act to cut off the $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to Egypt.
Little said it was unclear whether the promised delivery of spare parts and upgrade equipment for Egypt's M1A1 Abrams tanks would go ahead later this year.
Hagel has been the main conduit for the U.S. in contacts with the Egyptian military since Morsi was ousted and placed under house arrest. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the street demonstrators who backed the military have expressed contempt for U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson.
The phone call to al-Sissi on Wednesday was the most recent in more than a dozen phone contacts between the two men since July 3, according to a Pentagon.
In an address to military cadets earlier Wednesday, al-Sissi called for mass demonstrations on Friday in support of the army and the police in their efforts to deal with the "violence and terrorism" allegedly fomented by backers of Morsi.
Al-Sissi said that a massive turnout would give him a mandate to "do what is necessay" to stop the ongoing violence in the streets. A Muslim Brotherhood-led alliance of factions opposed to the military called al-Sissi's action an "open invitation" to civil war.
On Wednesday, suspected militants killed two soldiers and wounded three others in four separate attacks in Sinai. Also on Wednesday, a bomb went off outside the main police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansou6ra, wounding 19 people.