Before Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Cairo, National Security Adviser Susan Rice told him to make strong statements in public and private about the trial of deposed President Mohamed Morsi. On his own, Kerry decided to disregard the White House’s instructions.
The tension between the national security adviser and the secretary of state spilled over into public view in the past week, when Rice laid out her critical appraisal of the Egyptian government, which contradicted Kerry’s assessment that Egypt was “on the path to democracy.” The now public rift has been simmering behind the scenes for months and illustrates the strikingly divergent Egypt policies the White House and the State Department are pursuing.
The turf battles and internal confusion are hampering the administration’s approach to Egypt, say lawmakers, experts, and officials inside both governments.
“John Kerry doesn’t agree with Susan Rice on big portions of our Egypt policy, and he made a deliberate and conscious decision not to mention Morsi in his Cairo meetings,” an administration official told The Daily Beast. “Susan Rice wasn’t happy about it.”
Two other administration officials confirmed the Kerry-Rice rift over Egypt. The secretary and national security adviser’s disagreement about how to handle the tumultuous and troubled U.S.-Egypt relationship is only the latest example of how the White House has steered America’s approach to Egypt in a way that conflicts with the views and desires of the State Department and the Pentagon, said the two officials.
“The roadmap [to democracy] is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry said November 3 at a press conference during his surprise stop in Cairo, standing alongside the Egyptian foreign minister. “There are questions we have here and there about one thing or another, but Foreign Minister Fahmy has reemphasized to me again and again that they have every intent and they are determined to fulfill that particular decision and that track,” he said.
Never once during his trip did Kerry publicly mention Morsi, whose trial on charges of murder and other alleged crimes began November 4. Administration officials and sources close to the Egyptian government said Kerry also did not raise the Morsi trial in his various private meetings with Egyptian officials.
Rice delivered less praise and more admonishment for the Egyptian government in remarks at The Aspen Institute’s Washington Ideas Forum on November 13.
“We have tried to indicate to the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government that we support them in their transition back to an elected democratic government,” she said. “But that government needs to be inclusive. It needs to be brought about through a process in which all Egyptians can participate, and without violence. So when, in August, in the process of trying to clear the protesters from some of the squares in Cairo, over 1,000 people were killed, the United States, I think quite rightly, said, you know, ‘We have a problem with that. And we can’t pretend to conduct business as usual on the context of a government, however friendly, taking that kind of action against its people.’”
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