Meet the Press   |  August 18, 2013

1: Emergency in Egypt: The state of affairs

Foreign policy correspondents and Capitol Hill lawmakers visit Meet the Press to discuss the latest developments in the uprising in Egypt and the U.S. relationship with the nation.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> our issues and people this sunday the breaking news this morning days of rage the deadly clashes in egypt and president obama 's response.

>> our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets.the key question from the us should we cut off aid to egypt . i'll ask two keys senators on the armed services committee . race and justice a controversial crime fighting tool'stop and frisk, rejected by a federal judge . new york city police commissioner ray kelly joins me to defend it, while trayvon martin's mother gives me her views in an exclusive live interview.

>>> ready to run? hillary clinton returns to the stage. what's her strategy and what's the gop plan of attack for 2016 ? i'll get insights and analysis from our special roundtable. i'm david gregory . all that ahead on "meet the press" this sunday morning, august 18th .

>>> straight to the breaking news. a heavy security presence in cairo , egypt , this morning as military rulers are trying to strengthen their control over a country descending into chaos. so, how much worse will it get in egypt ? hundreds are dead, nearly 40 christian churches have been torched and looted, and supporters of the ousted president morsi, the muslim brotherhood , are vowing to fight back. we'll have a live report coming up from cairo in just a moment, but back here in washington , the critical question is, are u.s. taxpayers , in effect, footing the bill for the continuing violence? joining me now, two members of the senate armed services committee , democrat jack reed of rhode island and republican kelly ayotte of new hampshire. senators, welcome to you both. senator ayotte, straight to you. several weeks ago, this question came up -- should we keep the u.s. aid flowing to egypt ? you said yes then. have you had a change of heart now?

>> well, i think, david, in light of recent actions, we tried to give some time to the administration. they obviously tried to get the military government to not crack down in a violent way, to restore democracy , to move to elections, to release political prisoners . they have ignored all of those requests. and now with the recent violent crackdown, i do not see how we can continue aid. i believe it must be suspended because, unfortunately, i think the military's gotten the impression, and particularly with what the president not asking for aid to be suspended when he spoke this week, that whatever they do, we will continue our aid. so, i do support suspending aid at this time.

>> so, you talk about the change of heart because you've given them a little bit of room and they haven't responded. the egyptian military closely aligned with the u.s. government , but they're not listening, they're not sort of honoring that alliance.

>> right.

>> what leverage does it give the u.s. to take the step you're advocating this morning?

>> well, i think at this point, they're obviously getting the impression that no matter what they do, our aid will continue, so we do need to exercise our influence by saying we're going to follow the law, particularly in light of your recent violent crackdowns, suspend aid until you restore democracy , until you move to an inclusive process for elections, and obviously, a new constitution that allows all people to have a say in it, to respect people's rights. i think that's what we have to do at this point. we've tried to go down a road to get them to do the right thing. they're not doing that. and also, i would say this, david. the best way to marginalize the muslim brotherhood is in the ballot box , not through arrests and killing people. in fact, you're just going to encourage them to martyrdom, rather than just defeating them at the ballot box . they blew it when they were governing, and if we go to a democratic process , if the military does that, rather than taking this over in the power grab they're involved in right now, then the muslim brotherhood can be defeated through the democratic process .

>> so, senator jack reed , you know, this is summertime, you're in rhode island , you've got to be hearing from your constituents who are saying, hey, senator, why are we sending $1.5 billion to egypt every year, most of that to the military, when they're crushing protesters in the streets? just another strong man after mubarak that seems to be quelling dissent. senator rand paul tweeted, president obama says he deplores violence in egypt , but u.s. foreign aid continues to help pay for it. senator ted cruz said we're encouraging the violence by our aid. have you had a change of heart with regard to keeping the aid flowing to egypt ?

>> well, the acts of the last few days by the egyptian military are completely unconscionable, and i do believe we have to change our aid. i think also we have to have included in the legislation a national security waiver, because we have to give the president not only responsibility to deal with the government of egypt but also flexibility. and we have to recognize, this is not just for the moment, this is a long-term process. one of the obvious facts of a transition from our totalitarian government to a democracy , it takes a long time and it's not a straight line . and so, we have to have a policy that expresses our outrage, really, at the military, but also gives the president the tools to, we hope, engage them. and then moreover, we have to engage the regional powers , the saudis, the qataris, because they provide significant-and-they also provide economic aid . finally, we have to recognize longer term that there are other strategic issues here, including the safety and stability of israel and transit of the canal. so, i do believe that we can send a strong signal by suspending aid. the president also suspended the f-16 transfers. i believe he suspended bright star , our military exercise . but if we do, and i think we should, pass legislation, it has to have a waiver so that the president can be able to engage or attempt to engage the egyptian government .

>> well, here's how the president is engaging. he came out during his vacation on martha's vineyard, spoke on thursday. this is part of what he said.

>> we've sustained our commitment to egypt and its people, 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.

>> so, ratchets up the pressure, senator ayotte, but is the president more or less on the sidelines or do you think he's been doing the right thing?

>> well, i agreed with his suspension of the military exercise . obviously, his condemnation of the violence. but i think he fell short when he really didn't come out and call out the real question on the suspension of aid, because that is the real influence that we have with egypt . so, i thought that he could have been stronger on that coming very clearly against the violence and saying we're going to suspend aid until you restore democracy .

>> so, the question for me, senator reed, is what is it that the united states really wants to stand up for right now? i go back to the mubarak , at the end of the mubarak era in 2011 . at the time, secretary of state hillary clinton on this program talking about what it is the administration wanted then. watch her.

>> i want the egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. it needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy , not faux democracy like the elections we saw in iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people.

>> do we want real democracy , as secretary clinton said, senator reed, or above all, do we want to preserve our national security interests, which even the military doing what we don't want right now is still preserving? peace in the sinai desert , access to the suez canal , keeping peace in the region, helping us with counterterror?

>> i think in the long term, both those objectives are not only necessary but closely related. we have to have a true democracy in egypt over the long term. we recall, as you do, that the latest entry into the government by the egyptian military was sponsored by people who were rejecting morsi. a huge number of people coming out, a popular movement. unfortunately, i think what the military has done is taken this as a license to try to install the old national security regime that was featured under mubarak . we need both in the long run. we can't ignore the security considerations of the sinai, of the suez canal transit, but in the long term, the success of the region's going to be based upon a fully functioning democracy . we've seen that take place, but we also understand it takes an awfully long time. it's not a straight-line process. it's zigging and zagging. we have to be engaged, but we have to recognize, too, that in the long term, our values, but also our self-interests and the interests of the egyptian people is in a true democracy .

>> senator jack reed , senator kelly ayotte, more on the washington debate. thank you both very much for your time this morning.

>> thank you.

>> let me bring in richard engel , our chief foreign correspondent, on the ground in cairo , as well as senior fellow at the woodrow wilson center , robin wright , an expert on the broader middle east for context here. richard, your reporting has been compelling from the chaotic streets of cairo . given your sense of things, where is this headed?

>> reporter: well, i think a lot of it depends on what happens in washington . and just to continue on the debate you were just having, people in this country and around the region think it would be an absolutely disastrous idea for the united states to cut off aid, that washington has real interests with the egyptian military , preferential access to the suez canal , military overflights, and not to mention the camp david accords . the camp david accords brokered by the united states , the peace agreement between israel and egypt , says in principle that u.s. aid should be commensurate between israel , from washington to israel and from washington to egypt . and does the united states really want to be the first country that breaks the spirit of the camp david accords , whether it is breaking the law or not, it would certainly be seen here as breaking the spirit. also, does washington really want to back the muslim brotherhood ? at the end of the day , we can talk about process and our love for the democratic process , but now that is broken and the choice is binary. do we want to be with the military or do we want to be with the brotherhood? israel doesn't think we should drop the military and side with the brotherhood. neither does saudi arabia , neither does jordan, neither does the uae. i don't know why washington would want to go against so many of its key allies.

>> robin wright , one thing that's striking when i talk to people is this question, why can't the u.s. do more? why can't we have greater influence here? it's a tough balancing act. the president seems to not be able to do a whole lot more but stay on the sidelines at the moment.

>> well, the administration has very limited choices right now, in part because the egyptian military has really thumbed its nose at the united states . the u.s. made a good faith effort to sending out senior state department official to try to negotiate both with the muslim brotherhood officials as well as with the military to see if there was some kind of common ground , and they laid out a gradual process that would allow the roadmap, the political roadmap to continue. and the military decided against cooperating, and we've seen the violence ever since. the challenge now is, as you look forward, what happens and what role does the united states play? and the u.s. hopes that the roadmap will continue a pace with the new constitution announced next week, then referral to a broad cross section of political players and then elections for president and parliament in the next six months. but the problem is, is that political process even credible? so, the issue is not just for the united states what it does with the military and its interaction at this point, it's also what role does it play if the political transition doesn't prove to be credible, because it is exclusive rather than inclusive.

>> richard engel , again to the streets and to what could be next in cairo and outside the city. looting of christian churches getting a lot of attention here, the fact that ayman al zawahiri 's brother was arrested, fear that if the military wants to disband the muslim brotherhood as mubarak did back in the '80s, you could see jihadis flowing into egypt , you could have an insurgency. this is the kind of stuff that could disintegrate egypt and that the west would have to pay a great deal of attention to.

>> reporter: i think we're already seeing the signs of an insurgency. we have several million disgruntled, disaffected people. they have weapons and they have legitimate cause, and they are at times using those weapons. this is not a one-sided crackdown, by the way. the protesters, supporters of the muslim brotherhood have been doing the overwhelming part of the dying, and most of them have been the victims, probably 800, 900 so far. but around 100 members of the egyptian security forces have also been killed. churches have been attacked, government buildings have been attacked. so, i think we are already seeing a low-grade insurgency that is probably going to last some time. if the united states weighs in, and cuts off aid, egyptians feel it would only be making the insurgency worse by telling the people, telling the muslim brotherhood that it has an ally in washington and to keep up the fight. that is certainly the egyptian government 's line.

>> robin wright , final word on what's next, the way you see it.

>> the problem is, it's not just a division inside egypt , it's a division across the arab world , across the middle east . you find saudi arabia , which has taken a very strong stand on the side of the military, whereas qatar has been supportive of the muslim brotherhood . this is something that's going to change the face of the region. it's gutted democracy in the most important arab country. it affects the democratic experiment in the last bloc of countries to hold out in the economic tide. you can't ignore it and the consequences of the region, our interests and the world's interests as well.

>> a white house official this week said there has to be humility on the part of the u.s. to try to influence democratic change in a region with centuries of religious and sectarian scores to settle. that's where we find ourselves. robin wright , richard engel , who will continue his reporting there in egypt , thank you both very much.

>>> coming up here, we're going to talk about race and justice. a federal judge rejects new york city 's controversial program called stop and frisk. next, my interview with new york city police commissioner ray kelly and his answer to the question of whether people will lose their lives if the program is abandoned. plus, the mother of trayvon martin is here live. she'll share her thoughts on the larger debate about racial profiling. then, newt gingrich says we're a long way away from hillary clinton 's "coronation." is he right? our "political roundtable" on 2016 politics. later, our "meet the press" archives. the beginning of a dream. what martin luther king jr . said on this very program just three days before he made history.