WASHINGTON — The White House said cutting off aid immediately to Egypt wouldn’t be in the best interests of the United States.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the US is still reviewing whether the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi should be labeled a coup d’etat. Under US law, that would force the US to stop sending aid to Egypt.
Carney said the issue is complex and difficult. He said the US is reviewing its obligations under the law and will consult with Congress. He says the decision about what to call Morsi’s ouster will be in line with US policy objectives. He said the US isn’t supporting any side in the conflict but wants a democratic process.
The Obama administration has been trying to avoid labeling the overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist president a “coup” to keep crucial aid flowing to the Egyptian military without violating American law, US officials said Monday.
While not directly ordering a precooked outcome of a legal review into Mohammed Morsi’s ouster last week, the officials said Monday that the White House has made clear in inter-agency discussions that continued aid to Egypt’s military is a US national security priority that would be jeopardized by a coup finding. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal administration deliberations.
The legal review being led by State Department lawyers has not been completed, but under US law, a coup determination would require a suspension of all nonhumanitarian aid to Egypt, including $1.3 billion that directly supports the Egyptian military.
Some officials concede that a “no-coup” finding may become increasingly difficult to justify given the rising violence among Morsi supporters, opponents and security forces that has led to fears of a civil war.
The United States provides some $1.8 billion in aid to Egypt annually, most of it defense assistance conditioned on Egypt’s observance of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Congressional leaders cited those circumstances in suggesting that the Obama administration work with the interim government.
But other lawmakers, while noting the flaws in Morsi’s leadership and the popular uprising that led to his ouster, underscored that the language in the appropriations bill left virtually no wiggle room.
“Egypt’s military leaders say they have no intent or desire to govern, and I hope they make good on their promise,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the longtime chairman of the Senate’s foreign operations appropriation subcommittee. “In the meantime, our law is clear: US aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree. As we work on the new budget, my committee also will review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture.”
Unlike many other spending provisions, the language regarding a coup d’etat does not include a presidential waiver. That leaves the Obama administration three options for working around the provision: Obtain congressional agreement to add a waiver within the next few weeks; accelerate the democratic replacement of Egypt’s interim government; or use executive privilege to work around the lack of a congressional waiver.