WASHINGTON — The White House lifted an executive hold on weapon sales to Egypt Tuesday, as part of a broader attempt to "modernize" the military relationship between the two countries.

President Obama informed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of the change in the administration's posture, according to a White House notice. The loosening of restrictions comes just days after Egypt began bombing operations against militants in Yemen.

Since a military coup in October 2013, the White House has frozen military sales to Egypt in hopes it would force democratic reforms in the nation, which has been in turmoil since the 2011 "Arab Spring" protests swept longtime President Hosni Mubarak out of power.

In a statement announcing the change, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted that the administration has been tracking the Egypt situation since that 2013 freeze went into effect.

"Now that the process has been completed, the Administration will use the flexibility provided by Congress in legislation this fiscal year to provide additional military assistance to Egypt," Meehan wrote. "The Administration will not make the so-called 'democracy certification' in that legislation."

There are both immediate and long-term impacts of the change in posture. In the short term, the US will clear the sale of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles and up to 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits, which had been held up. Obama has also pledged $1.3 billion in foreign military financing (FMF) for Egypt.

That is good news for both an Egyptian military that has been awaiting upgraded equipment, and US industry, which has been waiting for the pipeline to one of its most reliable foreign customers to reopen.

Longer term, the Obama administration hopes to "modernize" its relationship with Egypt. Starting in 2018, the US will discontinue the use of cash flow financing for Egypt, which has allowed the nation to purchase US gear on credit.

Also in 2018, the FMF funding for Egypt will be targeted to four specific categories – counterterrorism, border security, maritime security and Sinai security – as well as sustainment for existing weapons. Although not stated in the news release, guiding how FMF dollars are used will allow the US to help shape Egypt's military strategies.

Those changes, Meehan wrote, will "create a U.S.-Egyptian military assistance relationship that is better positioned to address the security challenges of the 21st century, including the growth of an ISIL-affiliated group in Egypt that has launched devastating attacks on Egyptian soldiers and civilians in the Sinai, and to advance the military assistance relationship in support of U.S. national security interests."

In a statement, House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-TX., praised the decision.

"We encourage the government of Egypt to continue its democratic process," Thornberry said. "But Egypt is also a strong regional ally. Maintaining that relationship must be a priority for the U.S. Providing them with the means to protect Egyptians and Americans from the threat of terrorism is the right thing to do."

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

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