White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the Obama administration is going to take some time - how much time he did not say - to review whether the military-led ouster of Egypt's president is a coup. Meanwhile, the White House has does not intend to immediately cut off aid to the new military-backed Egyptian government.
"It would not be in the best interests of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs to Egypt," Carney said in a White House press briefing after repeated questions on U.S. aid to Egypt.
Asked directly if that would mean no immediate cut off of the $1.5 billion in aid the US gives to Egypt each year, Carney replied: "We think that would not be in our best interests."
U.S. law - specifically the Section 7008 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 - says that U.S. foreign aid cannot be extended to "the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed in a military coup d'état or … a decree in which the military plays a decisive role."
But Carney said the administration is not ready to label the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi a coup.
"This is an incredibly complex and difficult situation," Carney said. "President Obama made clear our deep concern about the decision made by the Egyptian armed forces to remove President Morsi from power and to suspend the constitution. It is also important to acknowledge that tens of millions of Egyptians have legitimate grievances with President Morsi's undemocratic form of government - governance, and they do not believe that this was a coup. Indeed, they were demanding a new government."
Here is the Q&A with Carney on U.S. aid to Egypt:
KARL: Just to be clear, is the administration actively considering cutting off aid to Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say, Jon, is that we are monitoring the situation in Egypt, we are taking the time necessary to make the determination about what happened and what to label it, if you will. And we will work with Congress on that and on the issue of further assistance.
I would point out simply that our relationship with Egypt is not limited to or defined solely by the assistance that we provide to Egypt. It is broader and deeper than that, and it is bound up in America's support for the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy, for a better economic and political future and we support that, and we support that process.
So our decisions with regards to the events that have happened recently in Egypt will be - and how we label them and analyze them - will be made with our policy objectives in mind in accordance with the law and in accordance with any consultation with Congress.
KARL: But I'm just asking a very specific question about - I think you answered it in there, but let me just be direct: $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt - is one of the things under active consideration cutting off that aid?
MR. CARNEY: I think it would not be in the best interests of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs to Egypt, we think - not just I, but we think that it would not be in the best interests of the United States to do that. We are reviewing our obligations under the law and we will be consulting with Congress about the way forward with regards to specifically the assistance package that we provide.
KARL: In other words, no immediate cut off of aid.
MR. CARNEY: We think that would not be in our best interests.
KARL: OK. And you said - and was said in the statement over the weekend - a desire to return to democratically elected government. That is A democratically elected government. The White House is not calling for the return of THE democratically elected government of President Morsi?
MR. CARNEY: We're calling for a return to democratic governments - governance, democratically elected government. It is for the Egyptian people to decide who their leaders are. We have, the president has, expressed his deep concern about the actions of the Egyptian military in removing President Morsi from power. But we are mindful, as I said at the top, about the polarization in Egypt and the views of millions of Egyptians about the undemocratic governance of the Morsi government and their demands for a new government.
So - and again, I'm trying to be candid here about - you'll get no argument from me if you go on the air and say that this is a highly complicated situation that requires, you know, very careful monitoring and engagement and that we do not - we want to take action that - and make decisions that helps Egypt move forward in this process and that helps Egypt reconcile and Egyptians reconcile as they move forward towards democratic governance in the future.
KARL: But as deeply concerned as you are about how Morsi was removed, you are not calling for him to be reinstated in any way.
MR. CARNEY: We are calling for a return to democratic governance and to a democratically elected government.
KARL: And then just to follow up on the question about the reporting over the weekend about what exactly the administration's involvement in all this was, the New York Times reported that Susan Rice spoke to a top Morsi adviser to tell him that the takeover was about to happen. Did that call actually take place as described?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have specific conversations to read out to you. I think that the military issued a deadline. It wasn't for any American or non-Egyptian official to inform anyone in Egypt about that deadline. So, I don't think that's a particularly deliminating point in terms of who conveyed to, or how it was conveyed to Egyptian officials that the military had set a deadline and intended to act on it.
What I will say is that we are obviously engaged with Egyptian officials in conversations that reflected the position the president had made clear, which is that he believed that democracy was more than just elections and that it was incumbent upon and remains incumbent upon Egyptian authorities to be responsive to the people they govern - to all of the people they govern.
And, you know, I'll leave it at that, but that was the - that's the role that we have and will continue to play in Egypt, which is to advise adherence to a - to democratic governance, to the rights and concerns of all the Egyptian people and to reconciliation and negotiation over conflict and violence.