Senior administration officials tell ABC News that the Obama administration has not determined whether a military coup occurred in Egypt earlier this month, and legally may never have to. According to U.S. foreign aid funding law, the designation of a coup would mean an automatic cut-off in aid to the country, which is roughly $1.55 billion a year, with $1.3 billion of that going to the military.
“Egypt serves as a stabilizing pillar of regional peace and security and the United States has a national security interest in a stable and successful democratic transition in Egypt,” said an official in a statement. “The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.”
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with senior members of the Senate Thursday in a closed-door meeting to brief members of Congress on the decision. The top Republican on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), said the administration, which asked for the meeting, has “not made a decision” on the designation. He said no designation may ever be made and they may need to get to the bottom of it legislatively.
He called the issue a “quandary legislatively” and said that it was important to work “towards stability” in Egypt.
Earlier Thursday, the Associated Press reported the administration would not declare Egypt’s government overthrow this month a coup, but Corker and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said those reports were not true.
“I think that any report that said they made a decision would be erroneous,” Menendez said.
Menendez said the U.S.’s decision, announced Wednesday, to delay sending four F-16s fighter jets to Egypt sends an “appropriate message to the Egyptian military that there is an expectation that they have to follow through with what they said. We have to make sure peace is maintained.”
When Corker was asked if he thinks aid should be cut off to Egypt, he called the nation a “very strategic country in the Middle East and what we need to be is an instrument of calmness.” He made it clear he does not want to do anything to increase instability in the region, that it was “important” to “continue our relationship with the Egyptian people, the Egyptian military.”
But Corker took issue with the idea that a determination may never be made. “We know it can’t stay out here in the land of not knowing what was or wasn’t.”
He also said that Congress may need to take up the issue to ensure that the Obama administration’s decision really adheres to the foreign operations appropriations act, which states unequivocally that the U.S. cannot provide military assistance to any country that has been taken over by a coup.
As for a timeline, Corker said it is “still being probed,” adding “we have some bills that are on the floor and others that are upcoming.”
Administration officials say they are ready to work with Congress to make sure that funding to Egypt continues “in a manner that encourages Egypt’s interim government to quickly and responsibly transition back to a stable, democratic, civilian-led and inclusive government that addresses the needs and respects the rights and freedoms of all its people.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were seen leaving the meeting, as was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who also confirmed the meeting was with Burns.
According to Senior Congressional sources, Burns also met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Eric Cantor Thursday to discuss Egypt as well.
On July 3, Egyptian armed forces deposed President Mohammed Morsi and imprisoned him, following massive street protests.
ABC’s John Parkinson contributed to this report