Friday, 14 February 2014
The United States scolded Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday for endorsing Egyptian military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the key U.S. ally’s presidential polls.
Washington also assured that a warming of relations between Cairo and Moscow wouldn’t harm the “historic” ties shared between Egypt and the United States, which have soured in recent months.
“Of course we don’t endorse a candidate and don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr Putin to decide who should govern Egypt,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
“It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide.”
Putin publicly threw his support behind Sisi’s as yet undeclared presidential bid during talks with the Egyptian defense minister in Moscow.
“It’s not up (to) us to endorse a candidate, and really not up to anyone else outside of Egypt to either,” Harf told reporters.
In remarks broadcast on Russian television, Putin spoke with Sisi about his presidential ambitions.
“I wish you luck both from myself personally and from the Russian people,” Putin said.
The 59-year-old Egyptian field marshal has not actually declared his presidential ambitions but is overwhelmingly predicted to run in elections set to be held later this year, after Islamist President Mohammed Mursi was ousted in July.
Sisi came to Moscow with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy for talks aimed at securing Russian assistance, particularly for the military.
Russia — one of the world’s top weapons exporters — is keen to revive military ties with Egypt, which had been extensive through the 1960s and early 1970s.
Cooperation between the two sides dropped after Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty and Cairo began receiving generous aid from a United States eager to encourage adherence to the peace deal, secure its own access through the Suez canal and support the most populous Arab country amid the “war on terror.”
But Washington ultimately froze a portion of its military aid to Cairo in October as punishment for Egypt’s bloody crackdown on Mursi supporters.
The U.S. State Department also denied that growing ties between Moscow and Cairo would hurt Washington’s “long-standing, strong, historical relationship with Egypt.”
“Egypt is free to pursue relationships with other countries. It doesn’t impact our shared interests,” Harf said, adding that the United States brings “unique capabilities to bring to bear militarily and economically” for Cairo.
Marie Harf Deputy Spokesperson Daily Press Briefing -Washington,DC
February 13, 2014
1:19 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Happy snow day. It’s the second time we’ve had to do this over the phone this year. And I appreciate folks, their patience and understanding with doing this.
So this will be just like a normal daily press briefing. It’ll be all on-the-record. What I’ll do is just give a quick travel update, and then we’ll go ahead and open it up for questions. So as the moderator just said, the question-and-answer mode should be on now.
So that’s all I have at the top. No athlete of the day today, because I don’t have the screens to show you all photos. So with that, we’ll start with Lara Jakes of the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
MS. HARF: I can.
QUESTION: Hooray. Okay. I have two questions, one on Egypt and one on Afghanistan. I’ve never done this before, so do you want me to just ask both of my questions —
MS. HARF: No, go ahead and do Egypt. We’ll keep your line open, so you can ask follow-ups. So go ahead and do Egypt, and then we’ll do Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Okay. So on Egypt, I’m sure you saw the reports today out of, I believe, Moscow, where Putin has endorsed Field Marshal al-Sisi’s unannounced bid for president. Wanted to get your all’s response on this. Also, a couple of ministers there, Russian and Egyptian, issued a joint communique condemning meddling in foreign affairs by foreign – I’m sorry – in domestic affairs by foreign nations. This is seen on the ground as a poke at the United States and their involvement with working with domestic political issues in Egypt. Can you respond to that?
MS. HARF: Yeah. So on your first question, I think in part we need to wait and see what comes out of this visit to Moscow. Of course, we don’t endorse a candidate and don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr. Putin to decide who should govern Egypt. It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide. So we’ve said – we have urged the government to continue to advance an inclusive transition that includes all groups and all parties. And again, it’s not up for us to endorse a candidate, and really not up to anyone else outside of Egypt to either. In terms of the – your second question, who issued that? I’m sorry. I haven’t seen that communique. Who issued that, Lara?
QUESTION: I will get you the names momentarily. It was – hold on. I don’t have the names of the people right now. I was just looking over a story, and I didn’t see it. I was just told this from one of our correspondents on the ground, but I will get that information.
MS. HARF: It’s okay. And the top line – and it said that no one should be meddling in Egypt’s affairs?
QUESTION: Hold on, and I will get you the exact language. Okay. I’ll just read this to you: Russian and Egyptian ministers issued a joint communique in which they, “condemned foreign interference in domestic affairs of any country and call for solving all existing problems and crises exclusively by peaceful means and broad, all-inclusive dialogue.” So no names, and I don’t have the names of the —
MS. HARF: Okay. That’s fine. Well, having not seen it, I think there is some irony to a foreign country issuing a statement saying other foreign countries shouldn’t get involved. But putting that aside, we have a long-standing relationship with Egypt that’s based on shared interests, as does Russia, as do other countries. So what we’ve said from the beginning is that we certainly do not – cannot and would not want to impose outcomes in Egypt. It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide what their future looks like. And that’s why we’ve said we will work with all parties and all groups across the political spectrum to help advance a process, right, an inclusive democratic transition, but not to impose outcomes and not to endorse candidates, because, again, that’s up to the Egyptian people. So I think that our position certainly hasn’t changed. We have relationships with countries all over the world, including Egypt, based on shared interests, not based on what the U.S. wants or doesn’t want to be done there, but based on what our interests are and what their interests are. You had Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Okay. I was wondering if you have anything more about the arrest of this employee in the Embassy in Egypt. You said you were going to get more clarity. Is this – have you been notified that this is because of any contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood? And what are you – given that this employee wouldn’t have any diplomatic immunity, but – what do you plan to do about this?
MS. HARF: Yeah. So – and thank you for the question. I know there’s been a lot of sort of churn in the media out there about this case. We have been in touch with the Government of Egypt. We have requested additional information about his case. To our knowledge, no charges have been filed against him, although he does remain in prison. He is a member of our political section at the Embassy, performed a number of duties, and does what locally employed staff do for political sections, sort of, in embassies all over the world, right: help us interpret political developments on the ground and connect American diplomats to a wide variety of political actors so we can inform our policy decisions based on those discussions. So what we said to the Government of Egypt is that they need to tell us, and more importantly make public, right – not through anonymous sources, but make public very clearly why he was arrested and is being held. They have not done that yet. I’ve seen some of the anonymous Egyptian officials being quoted about why – talking about why he may have been arrested, but they have not told us yet why he has been detained.
QUESTION: Okay, but given the fact that they haven’t told you this, are you – do you believe that this is because of his work in the political section, which when you say that he connected American diplomats to various —
MS. HARF: Political actors.
QUESTION: — political actors, I’m assuming that would mean the Brotherhood. And given what these anonymous officials are saying in terms of why he was arrested, I mean, what does that say to you about the overall crackdown on the Brotherhood and the intimidation of diplomats who might have contact with them?
MS. HARF: Yeah, well, again, we’ve seen – at least the anonymous sources I’ve seen in the press – maybe I’m missing something – don’t actually mention the Muslim Brotherhood as talked about dealing with certain groups or outlawed groups – which, of course, some could mean that. But I think what we have said is that there are a lot of anonymous officials out there talking about why he may or may not have been arrested, but they need – the Egyptian Government needs to tell us and needs to make public why he was arrested – not through anonymous sources but actually tell us why officially, right? That’s how the process works here. I think – so I don’t – and it’s what we said yesterday, sort of – until they tell us why he was arrested, we don’t want to jump to conclusions and don’t want to, in this specific case, make judgments that we don’t know are necessarily founded in reality. But putting aside his specific case, we have been concerned about the political climate in Egypt. We’ve talked about it a lot. We’ve been concerned about Egyptians of different parties being able to peacefully demonstrate and express their political views. We’ve been as concerned about the inclusiveness about the process and very clearly said that it needs to be inclusive going forward. So we need some more details, quite frankly, about this – official details, which is how the process works, before we’re going to make, I think, any generalizations about his case.
QUESTION: But have any of your diplomats in Egypt been encouraged or subtly threatened or anything not to be speaking to the Muslim Brotherhood?
MS. HARF: By the government?
MS. HARF: Yep. It looks like our next question is from Michael Hernandez of Anadolu Agency.
QUESTION: Well, thank you, Marie. I just have a couple quick questions going back to al-Sisi’s visit to Egypt.
MS. HARF: Yep. Moscow?
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
MS. HARF: To Moscow.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Yeah. Yeah, to Russia.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. First of all, I wanted to get your reaction to the fact that this is his first foreign trip since the military endorsed his unannounced bid for the presidency, and also what you make of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov saying that the two have agreed to a document talking about the need to accelerate military-to-military technological cooperation.
MS. HARF: Yeah, so just a couple of points on this. I think we want to see sort of what comes out of the meeting – the meetings, in terms of what happens and sort of any analysis we have on that. Look, Egypt is free to pursue relationships with other countries; it doesn’t impact our shared interests. Obviously, each country brings unique capabilities and pieces of the pie, so to speak, to relationships, bilateral relationships with Egypt and with other countries. So again, this doesn’t impact our relationship, but we’ll wait to see what comes out of it. And if we have more analysis to do then, we’ll do so after it’s over.
QUESTION: And just to follow up, if I could, you don’t see this in any way as Russian – Russia kind of stepping into the historically strong role that the U.S. has had with Egypt on military cooperation?
MS. HARF: It’s an interesting question and it’s in some ways an easy narrative for people to try and pick up on, right? When some of the other countries in the region offered Egypt some financing, for example, people said, “Well, are they trying to take your role in terms of financing?” And what we said on that – and what I would say here – is that the United States has unique capabilities to bring to bear military and economically in terms of the relationship, right? So we have a longstanding, strong, historical relationship with Egypt. That has not changed, and we don’t think that this visit to Russia will impact our shared interests with Egypt. So again, we’ll wait and see what happens. But because I think we do have unique capabilities to bring to the relationship, which we’ve seen over decades, I think we feel like we are in a place where we’ll keep working on issues together, and if they want to work with other countries, then they’re free to do so.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)
Daily Press Briefing – February 13, 2014.