No US plans to cut off Egypt military aid yet: US Defence Secretary Hagel

This US Department of Defence photo shows US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as he speaks with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian from his plane on Aug 27, 2013. Mr Hagel said on Wednesday that he opposes cutting off US military aid to Eg
This US Department of Defence photo shows US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as he speaks with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian from his plane on Aug 27, 2013. Mr Hagel said on Wednesday that he opposes cutting off US military aid to Egypt but vowed Washington would keep pressing for "reconciliation" in the country. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

JERUDONG, Brunei (AFP) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday that he opposes cutting off US military aid to Egypt but vowed Washington would keep pressing for "reconciliation" in the country.

The United States earlier this month condemned Egyptian security forces for firing on protesters backing ousted president Mohamed Mursi, in a crackdown that left nearly 1,000 people dead.

"The interim government has to get back on the path to reconciliation, stop the violence, put Egypt back on the path of economic, democratic reform," Mr Hagel said in an interview with the BBC aired on Wednesday.

"Now do you do that best by cutting off all aid?

"Maybe eventually that happens, but I don't think you can take that approach initially, you have to respond and we've made it clear what we'd like to see happen," said Mr Hagel, in Brunei for a meeting of regional defence ministers.

Mr Hagel did not rule out eventually shutting off the flow of US$1.3 billion (S$1.7 billion) in annual military aid to Cairo, but he stressed the importance of maintaining the decades-long alliance with Egypt, calling it a source of stability that had reinforced US interests.

"We've had strong partnerships with Egypt for many years starting with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that the US brokered in 1979 that essentially prevented the region from breaking out into a regional war," he said.

"Egypt has played a responsible part of that, been a very responsible partner."

The United States "wouldn't necessarily agree with the forms of government, the dictatorships, but... we would not want to see the disintegration of a relationship with a large important country like Egypt," he said.

Echoing similar remarks he made earlier this month, Mr Hagel said America's influence with Egypt had limits.

"So we've tried to help where we can, within the boundaries where we can affect influence where we can," Mr Hagel said. "You can't go in and impose. It's up to the Egyptian people what kind of future they want and what kind of government they want."