The US has suspended plans to advance free trade talks with Egypt in response to the Arab country's decision not to join the US in a World Trade Organisation complaint against Europe's ban on genetically modified foods.
The harsh US retaliation against one of its closest Arab allies has taken Egypt by surprise and set back the initial stages of President George W. Bush's plans for a region-wide free trade area by 2013.
Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative, delivered the tough message to Egyptian trade officials last week after Egypt confirmed that it would not be a co-complainant in the WTO case.
Egypt says it is stunned by the fury of the US response over what it says are small differences over GM foods.
The US announced last month that Egypt - along with Argentina and Canada - would join the US in a WTO complaint aimed at forcing the European Union to approve the sale of new GM varieties, which have been blocked since 1998.
Egypt's participation was crucial to the US claim that the European ban is hurting developing countries as well as US biotechnology companies. But Egypt, faced with a domestic backlash, pulled out of the case and has decided to pursue its complaint against the EU separately.
"If you're going to do a free trade agreement with someone, it's important that the people you're talking to are going to be able to deliver," said a US trade official. "They told us one thing and did another."