President Barack Obama has scrapped joint U.S.-Egypt military exercises scheduled for next month, saying American cooperation with the Egyptian government cannot continue when civilians are being killed in the streets. He directed his national security team to see what additional steps the U.S. might take going forward.
It was Obama's first statement on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Egypt, where spiraling violence has left more than 500 people dead in clashes between the military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. The violence prompted the Egyptian government to declare a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.
Obama spoke from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he is on vacation.
The Bright Star military exercise has been a centerpiece of the two countries' military relations for decades.
Administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have condemned the clashes between Egypt's military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. But the U.S. had until now avoided any shifts in its policy toward Egypt, with officials continuing to refrain from calling Morsi's ouster a coup. Taking that step would require the U.S. to cut off $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.
Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, also resigned Wednesday in protest over the assaults as the military-backed leadership imposed a monthlong state of emergency and nighttime curfew.
With Obama on vacation, Kerry handled the administration's initial response Wednesday, declaring the violence "deplorable."
"It's a serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people's hopes for a transition toward democracy and inclusion," he told reporters during a surprise appearance at the White House.
It's unclear whether canceling the Bright Star military exercise or taking other similar punitive actions would push Egypt's interim government to end its crackdown on Morsi supporters.
Bright Star usually is held every other year, but the 2011 maneuvers were canceled following the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in January. This year's exercise is tentatively planned to begin in mid-September.
Associated Press reporters Julie Pace and Nedra Pickler and AP writers Matthew Lee and Robert Burns contributed to this story.
This story has been updated.