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Washington has 'limited' ability to influence Egypt

As fighting continues in Egypt with the death toll numbering in the hundreds, all corners of the Obama administration condemned the bloodshed, but stalled on c
Image: A wounded boy is treated in Cairo,Egypt
A wounded boy is treated as he lies on the floor of the Taamin Sehi field hospital during clashes between security officers and supporters of ousted...

As fighting continues in Egypt with the death toll numbering in the hundreds, all corners of the Obama administration condemned the bloodshed, but stalled on conveying a clear course of action—principally, on whether the U.S. will continue its aid to Egypt totaling more than $1 billion.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel echoed President Obama’s calls to stem the rampant violence that has ravaged Egypt since the July 3 ouster of the country’s first democratically-elected leader.

“As President Obama said last week, the violence must end,” Hagel said in a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart, Minister of National Defense General Chang Wanquan, Monday.

But Hagel acknowledged, “Our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited.” Asked whether the administration should cut the remaining portion of its $1.5 billion annual aid package to Egypt, and principally to the country’s military, Hagel pointed to the role of the Egyptian people. “It will be their responsibility to sort this out,” he said.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday that a “review is ongoing” of U.S. aid, in “light of actions taken by the interim Egyptian government.”

President Obama on Thursday canceled a joint-military exercise with the Egyptian army scheduled for next month, and said his administration would continue to “assess” the violence roiling the country, despite mounting pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to restrict aid.

“We’ve sustained our commitment to Egypt and its people,” Obama said Thursday in remarks. “But our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets.”

Hundreds have died and thousands more have been injured since the Egyptian military in July forcibly removed the the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammad Morsi.

A growing number of lawmakers in Washington are calling on the president to halt aid to Egypt as violence continues in Egypt’s streets. Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Sunday condemned the violence and called on Obama to halt the funds.

“The acts of the last few days by the Egyptian military are completely unconscionable and I do believe we have to change our aid,” Reed said on the show. “I think also we have to have included in the legislation a national security waiver because we have to give the president not only the responsibility to deal with the government of Egypt but also flexibility.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, stressed continued U.S. involvement in the region.

“We need to be the voice of calm,” Corker said on Andrea Mitchell Reports Monday. “We obviously don't have the leverage that other countries have in the region. I think we’ve overestimated what our leverage is and underestimated, as I’ve said before, the leverage that Saudi Arabia as and the Emirates have.”

More than 800 people have been killed since Wednesday in the latest round of clashes since security forces opened fire on two pro-Morsi protest camps last week. Violence continued Sunday when at least 38 Muslim Brotherhood supporters who were being kept as prisoners. Then on Monday, masked gunmen attacked two civilian minibuses carrying Egyptian police, fatally shooting 25 officers in Northern Sinai, NBC News reported.

The surge in killings comes as an Egyptian court Monday dropped corruption charges against Hosni Mubarak, ordering for the deposed president’s release. Mubarak, who was ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring following over three decades of dictatorship, could however still face time behind bars over a myriad of other charges. He has already been convicted of life in prison over a separate case dealing with the death of protesters, NBC News reports. He was sentenced to life in prison as a result of that verdict, but has secured a retrial in the case.

More than a year on since his arrest, the only legal grounds for Mubarak's continued detention rest on another corruption case which his lawyer, Fareed el-Deeb, said would be settled swiftly.

"All we have left is a simple administrative procedure that should take no more than 48 hours. He should be freed by the end of the week," Deeb told Reuters.

At his Monday press conference, Secretary Hagel said he is not aware of reports of Mubarak, the country’s former president who was elected during summer 2012 and overthrown by a military-aided popular uprising in the streets, being released from jail.