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End to Egypt arms freeze depends on leaders: Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on October 10, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on October 10, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that America's suspension of military hardware deliveries to Egypt could be lifted based on the behaviour of the country's interim government.

Deliveries could resume if Cairo's military-led authorities make headway toward restoring civilian rule, Kerry said.

"So this would be on the basis of performance," he said during a visit to Malaysia.

"By no means is this a withdrawal from our relationship or a severing of our serious commitment to helping the government" transition to democracy, Kerry told reporters in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Washington on Wednesday announced a halt to shipments of some large-scale military systems and withheld $260 million in cash aid to Egypt, following the army's ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.

The step was aimed at signalling Washington's displeasure with the military rulers over months of bloodshed amid a deadly crackdown against protesters and Islamists.

Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi gesture to remember those killed in the crackdown on the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp earlier this year, as they demonstrate against the military in Cairo on October 4, 2013
Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi gesture to remember those killed in the crackdown on the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp earlier this year, as they demonstrate against the military in Cairo on October 4, 2013

Egypt has criticised the US decision as "flawed" and said it would not bow to American pressure.

The decision, which marks a dramatic break with years of unqualified support to Cairo, will prevent deliveries of big-ticket items including Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tank parts and Harpoon missiles.

The United States had already effectively shelved deliveries of expensive military hardware since the July 3 coup that ousted Morsi and a subsequent clampdown on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

In the wake of the summer's events, President Barack Obama had ordered his national security team to review the total $1.5 billion in annual US aid to Egypt.

Kerry stressed, however, that the latest move was "not a withdrawal" of the US relationship with Egypt. "We are going to continue, we want this government to succeed."

The US administration has said many economic, health and education programs will continue and it was "looking right now at how to repurpose some of the money," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday.

But amid a debate in Washington about whether Egypt needs more tanks and artillery, and the huge 1.3 billion in annual US military aid, she agreed "assistance needs to match the operational picture on the ground" which had changed.

"I'm sure that it's an issue that people are thinking about" as they review US aid to Egypt in the coming years, she added.

Harf refused to say if the US had set specific criteria for the Egyptian authorities, but said "we will review our assistance levels against several factors, including progress the Egyptian government is making towards restoring democratically elected civilian government."

US officials said the value of the frozen deliveries would run into "hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance."

Egyptian authorities on Wednesday announced that former president Morsi would stand trial on November 4 on charges of inciting the murder of demonstrators protesting against his one-year rule.

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