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U.S. Buys Time in Delaying F-16 Delivery to Egypt

The White House's decision to delay a shipment of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt may buy the U.S. some time to sort through its complicated aid package to the country.

President Barack Obama this week opted to stop a planned shipment of four of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made aircraft to Egypt after military forces ousted President Mohamed Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood from government.

"It's not appropriate right now for that delivery to move forward," Josh Earnest, the White House's principal deputy press secretary, said yesterday during a press briefing aboard Air Force One en route Jacksonville, Fla., according to an official transcript. He echoed comments made a day earlier by Pentagon Press Secretary George Little.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reportedly informed Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the head of Egypt’s military, of the decision.

When asked whether the administration's move was an effort to motivate or punish the Egyptian military, Earnest said, "We're continuing to review our obligations under the law, as it relates to all of this, and we’re hopeful that officials in Egypt will continue to take the steps necessary to expeditiously move toward a democratically elected government in that country."

The fighter jets are part of a larger deal Egypt brokered with the Defense Department. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency in 2009 notified Congress of a possible $3.2 billion potential sale to Egypt of 24 F-16C/D models and associated weapons, equipment and parts. Twenty of the aircraft were to be delivered in 2013.

The agency in 2011 informed lawmakers of a potential $1.33 billion sale to Egypt of 125 M1A1 Abrams tanks made by General Dynamics Corp. and associated weapons, equipment and parts. The country is in the process of buying a total of 1,200 of the combat vehicles.

In addition to the planes and tanks, Egypt purchases American-made ships, helicopters, missiles and other weaponry with the help of U.S. military aid that totals $1.3 billion a year, according to a June report from the Congressional Research Service. The country also receives about $250 million in economic assistance, bringing the total U.S. aid package to about $1.55 billion a year, according to the CRS.

However, lawmakers say a special financing arrangement, known as cash-flow financing, effectively allows Egypt to place orders for weapons that are worth more than what it receives each year in assistance, according to a July 26 article in The Washington Post.

"It has gotten us into a situation where we are mortgaged years into the future for expensive equipment," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the newspaper.

The privilege -- which is also granted to Israel -- makes it harder to shut off aid, as is legally required to happen when a democratically elected government is deposed by a military coup or decree, according to the report.

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