Excerpted from The Hill
The White House on Monday said it is not in the best interest of the United States to immediately cut aid to Egypt and refused to label the Egyptian army’s ouster of that country’s president as a military coup.
Press secretary Jay Carney said the administration is reviewing the situation in Egypt carefully and will consult with Congress, but also noted that the army’s actions appeared to have popular support in the country.
Carney noted that “tens of millions” of Egyptians leading protests against ex-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s government did not consider his removal from office a coup, and that it was important to consider American “national security interests.”
“This is a complex and difficult issue with significant consequences,” Carney said.
He said an immediate change to Egyptian aid was “not the best interest of the United States.”
“I’ve been very blunt about the fact that we’re going to examine this and monitor this and take the time in making a determination,” Carney said.
As to whether the Egyptian army’s actions were a coup, Carney said: “It is not in our interests to move unnecessarily quickly in making a determination like that, because we need to be mindful of our objective here, which is to assist the Egyptian people in their transition to democracy.”
The military’s removal from power of Morsi, who remains under house arrest, has put the Obama administration in a bind. Besides the $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt’s military, the U.S. gives Egypt $250 million in economic assistance.
Calling it a coup in Egypt would require the U.S. to curtail military aid to Egypt under U.S. law, though administrations have found ways in the past to get around eliminating aid.
According to federal law, nonhumanitarian aid must be withdrawn to “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”
That law has led to the U.S. cutting off assistance to countries including Mauritania, Mali, Madagascar and Pakistan in the past. But the White House has thus far refused to categorize the events in Egypt as a coup.
Escalating violence in the country — more than 50 people were killed and 300 more injured in clashes between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday — have only intensified pressure on the president. Morsi, who was elected after former President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Carney said the United States “remains deeply concerned by the increasing violence across Egypt” and explicitly condemned calls to violence by the Muslim Brotherhood. He also called on the Egyptian military to avoid political arrests or restrictions on the media.
Congressional leaders have been split on whether to pull aid. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said Sunday that Morsi’s ouster was a coup and the American government should cut off aid. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted “neocons” for wanting to continue funneling money to the “military junta” there.
But in appearances over the weekend, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) argued aid should continue to Egypt.
“What we should be doing right now is urging calmness, urging the military to move through this civilian process for as quickly as possible, to ask the Muslim Brotherhood to act with some degree of responsibility,” Corker told Fox News. “Our role right now should be one of applying calm, trying to get our partners in the region to do the same thing.”
President Obama huddled with members of the National Security Council about Egypt over the weekend, and emphasized in a statement that the U.S. was not aligned with or supporting any particular Egyptian political policy or group.
“The United States categorically rejects the false claims propagated by some in Egypt that we are working with specific political parties or movements to dictate how Egypt’s transition should proceed,” the White House statement said. “We remain committed to the Egyptian people and their aspirations for democracy, economic opportunity and dignity. But the future path of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people.”
The White House statement also called for “an inclusive process” and condemned the violence within the country.
“As Egyptians look forward, we call on all sides to bridge Egypt’s divisions, reject reprisals, and join together to restore stability and Egypt’s democracy,” the White House said.