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Corker calls for U.S. to be 'voice of calm' in Egyptian crisis

9:36 PM, Aug 15, 2013   |    comments
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By Ledyard King and David Jackson / Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday he wants the Obama administration to work "actively" with countries in the Middle East to reduce tensions and jump start talks on returning democracy to Egypt.

Following civil unrest that has left hundreds dead, President Obama said his government "strongly condemns" violence in Egypt, and he is canceling U.S.-Egyptian military exercises that had been scheduled for next month.

Speaking from his vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Obama did not suspend any other form of aid to Egypt; he said continued U.S. "engagement" with the military government in Cairo will help it transition back to democracy.

"But while we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back," Obama said.

Corker, who is traveling in the Middle East this week, said he supported much of what Obama had to say, though he wished the president had stressed the need for the Muslim Brotherhood and other supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to act responsibly as well.

"The United States should continue to try to be a voice of calm in Egypt," he said in a statement issued through his office. "I hope the White House is actively working with other countries in the neighborhood behind the scenes to reduce tensions between the parties and get the democratic process back on track."

Corker has been traveling to portions of the Middle East this week, including Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, to speak with U.S. and foreign officials regarding regional political and security issues, particularly the conflict in Syria, violence in Egypt, and the threat of sectarian violence and terrorism in the region, according to his office.

On Monday, the senator visited U.S. military personnel operating the U.S. Patriot missile battery near the Turkish border with Syria as well as a refugee camp nearby. On Wednesday, Corker was in Baghdad meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and other government officials. On Thursday, Corker was in Jordan to talk with King Abdullah II and other key leaders.

The U.S. and Egypt had joint military maneuvers known as "Bright Star" scheduled for mid-September. Obama said they cannot go on given the violence that has claimed at least 500 lives and injured thousands more.

In the past, Bright Star has been held every two years, though the 2011 exercises were canceled because of that year's removal of President Hosni Mubarak.

Obama, who met with his national security team on Thursday, said he has asked aides to assess "further steps we may take" if Egypt's interim government does not honor pledges to conduct new elections as soon as possible and restore a democratic government.

Some lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to cut off aid to Egypt now.

"President Obama says he deplores violence in Egypt, but the foreign aid continues to help pay for it," tweeted Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

The president spoke a day after Egypt's interim government used force to clear encampments created by backers of the ousted Morsi. The action triggered violent clashes throughout the country. The interim government has declared a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.

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