Morsi's Shakeup of Egyptian Defense Chiefs Takes U.S. by Surprise

'We obviously did know that there were discussions ongoing about a new defense team - with regard to the precise timing, less so,' said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

While it was clearly taken by surprise by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's move to reshuffle the countries defense leadership on Sunday, the Obama administration was careful to project a sense of business as usual on Monday.

Administration officials stressed that the new appointees were "well known" to them, and that "personnel changes" are less important than the overall orderly transition to democracy in the country. They also emphasized that military cooperation with Egypt would continue.

"We had expected President Morsi at some point to coordinate changes in the military leadership, to name a new team. The United States and the Department of Defense in particular look forward to continuing a very close relationship with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

"The new defense minister is someone who’s known to us, he comes from within the ranks of the SCAF and we believe we’ll be able to continue the strong partnership that we have with Egypt," he said.

Little added that U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who visited Egypt only two weeks ago, looks forward to talks with his new Egyptian counterpart.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said "coup" is "not the word that we have used here."

"We obviously did know that there were discussions ongoing about a new defense team - with regard to the precise timing, less so," Nuland added. "But when the secretary [Clinton] was in Egypt we knew that there would be a change at an appropriate moment and that it would be discussed between the civilian leadership and the military."

Asked to explain why Morsi didn't coordinate his move with the military, Nuland said it was up to the Egyptian government to explain, "The specifics of their coordination."

"We certainly heard when we were there that there was discussion between them about an appropriate transition at an appropriate time," she added.
White House spokesman Jay Carney commended the ousted Field Marshall Tantawi for his service, "especially during the extremely difficult transition from President Mubarak’s leadership through the elections."

"It is important for the Egyptian military and civilian leadership to work closely together to address the economic and security challenges facing Egypt," Carney said.

Carney also said that the Obama administration was not surprised by Morsi's shakeup. "We had expected President Morsi to coordinate with the military to name a new defense team. And we will continue to work with Egypt’s civilian and military leaders to advance our many shared interests. In particular, we are ready to help President Morsi and the military as they continue to work to prevent extremists from operating in the Sinai," he said.