White House Reluctant to Call Egypt Turmoil a 'Coup'

Egyptian government's crackdown of protests leads to casualties, injuries in Cairo.
22:05 | 08/14/13

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Transcript for White House Reluctant to Call Egypt Turmoil a 'Coup'
This is a special report from ABC news. I'm tired and his in New York in the this is an ABC news digital special report at least 95 people are dead including two journalists. But the Egyptian military continues a violent crackdown on pro Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Camped out in Cairo. Army leaders have also -- what they say will be a month and so called emergency rule. Last round in this classic from 1967. Almost unbroken from may 2012. -- let's -- -- to Martha's Vineyard where president is on vacation for today's briefing with deputy Press Secretary Josh. Courses to show restraint and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens. Just as we've urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. Violence will only make it more difficult. -- -- Egypt Ford on a path to lasting stability and democracy. And runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation. We also strongly oppose -- return to a state of emergency law. And call on the government to respect basic human rights. Such as freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law. The world is watching what is happening in Cairo. We urge the government of Egypt and all parties in Egypt to refrain from violence and resolve their differences peacefully. So that opening statement that terrible good -- first question -- passed out. To -- leverage here. Is the administration reconsidering its decision on labeling this thing. We're still spending. -- one point three billion dollars to the military if anything. Foot as he noted that -- over the course of the last several weeks. Senior officials in the Obama administration have been cut in touch with their counterparts in -- -- -- to a number of calls that secretary Kerry has done with his counterpart in Egypt. We've -- described a number of calls between secretary Cagle and his counterparts. And military leadership in Egypt. Deputy secretary of state burns was just in Egypt last week. He was joined by his counterpart from the EU. And diplomats from the UAE and cutter as well. All having meetings with officials and Egyptian. Interim government. And senator Graham and Senator McCain also traveled to Egypt last week. So there are open lines of communication between United States in Egypt and I think is the statement that I just read makes pretty clear. Our view that the government should respect the basic universal human rights. Of their people is -- -- -- is an ambiguous we've been very direct about that. We also will continue to hold the interim government accountable. For the promise that they've made to speed the transition to a civilian democratically elected government. That's what we would like -- C in Egypt not just because of our firm belief in universal human rights. But also it's because it's the will of the Egyptian people. So -- will continue to be in touch with our counterparts in Egypt and continue to urge them to follow through -- Their commitment to -- to transition to a democratic. Civilian government and to do so through an inclusive process. And that those messages are pretty unambiguously and are sent on a regular basis aren't considering reconsidering the decision on whether or not just. As I think we talked about a couple weeks ago you know we have determined that it is. Not in the best interest the United States -- make that determination. But as we've also said throughout that process we are on a regular basis reviewing the aid that is provided. By the United States to Egypt and will continue continue to do that is how the president -- -- -- Well I can say that the president has been briefed on the -- on the violence that occurred overnight in Egypt. As he knows the national security advisor and -- -- traveling with us this week. And the -- will continue to stay updated and assessed to be regularly updated as events warrant so he has some. -- is closely monitoring what's happening. I think we felt like after what's happened here watching the Muslim Brotherhood he's prepared to talk to. Well part of the conversations the -- deputy secretary burns and others have had with. Egyptian officials is that it's in the best interests of all sides to pursue reconciliation to put an end to the violence to respect basic human rights. And to put in place say a government that reflects the will of the Egyptian people. And that is the clear view the United States and something that we had as you point out. And urge them to do for quite some time now. But it's also in the best interest the Egyptian people and so we are. Hopeful that. -- that -- that the interim government will begin to take the steps necessary to. To affect that transition. -- -- -- -- -- From 95 to. I can tell you that there are folks were -- the situation are. Are working to gets more details about what exactly happened I don't have anymore. I. He's we will hold the interim government accountable and in what way. Well just it that we -- that they had made promises that they that the when he entered interim government took. Took control of the country. They promised that they would that this is only an interim step. That they could transition promptly to a civilian democratically elected government that the promises they've made -- -- to promise that we're gonna encourage -- to keep. So I think hold them accountable I mean we're gonna remind them that they made that promise. And encourage them to keep. So. Major. Give us any more specifics about the mechanics. Security present -- this morning with a everything -- part in view. Tonight you've seen wars sites. It's my understanding Hughes -- this morning by ambassador -- -- I don't know exactly what time that occurred. We could try to get more details for -- that be helpful but he was side Houston is brief on this situation this morning. This situation has been building. Interim government sending signals the better part of the last of -- two hours -- -- moving in this direction. Were there any last minute efforts at any level. It's got to hurt more and -- -- the traditional service not to take these violent steps. I don't have any specific conversations set to highlight for you but. All along you've heard me and so there's no ambiguity about what the position is that this government and that that of our government the United States government. About the importance of respecting basic human rights that that includes the right to peaceful assembly and peaceful protest. And data say it message -- been communicated directly. To the egyptians at a range of levels. And down that is our position on that it's not that's not unclear. Concern. Just glad. -- -- Because -- as part of a few questions and listen Brothers the guys that two episode. Recently started by Ben -- resulted in dozens of deaths. Of their membership protests in peace. How can this and that and reconciliation. Why is this headed directly. Well I I think my statement alluded to this concern which is that violence will only make it more difficult moving Egypt forward on a path. To lasting stability and democracy and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation. So. There's no question that -- the violence that we saw overnight. Is a step in the wrong direction it is an indication that they're not. Currently following through on their promise to transition back to a democratically elected civilian. Government. That they're not committed to a inclusive process it's time for them to get back on a path. Respecting the basic human rights of their people to include a include a variety of perspectives in conversations. About what the future government of Egypt looks like and again that's important not just because of the importance of respecting the basic. Universal human rights that we in the United States hold so dear it's also important because that's what the people -- -- Egypt or demand. And stakes are -- this is provoking a reassessment within the administration about what it's done what made you. Because what you said and made interactive strategy. That we know. Well we have said that we are regular basis reviewing the -- that assistance that we provide the egyptians and that that review is ongoing you've. You've heard -- say that we're not going to designate the the interim government as a coup because it's not in the best interest the United States but were reviewing our obligations under the law. We made an announcement a couple of weeks ago -- a shipment of F sixteens that was delayed. So this is. The review of our assistance that is provided today Egypt is something that we do on a regular basis and that's something that we are continuing to -- accelerate. This. I would I would and concede that it is that it continues to happen that we are continuing to review. Our posture our assistance. To -- to the egyptians to -- And Campanella uterus has said it's getting one point three billion dollars. You have open lines locations. That they tell you advance and it's open line communication they would sweep this demonstration. I don't have any specific conversations today to review into -- mean that we have been as -- pointed out in regular touch at a variety of levels with. With the with the leaders of Egypt. Well I. Again I don't I don't have any I don't have any conversations to -- at this point so I'm not able to provide you greater insight into. Into what specific conversations we've had. Other than to say that we've had many of them at a variety of levels. And I don't have any -- read out in terms of what calls have been made today but I would anticipate that you continue to see some. Interaction between senior represented -- that this administration and senior represented -- that the Egyptian government. He played there. The military takes over elected. Now has declared an emergency state workers curfew at 7 o'clock. -- and how better it's. Is it or is it isn't doing you -- wanna say. Well I think what we announced a couple weeks ago is that we had a -- to the conclusion that we are not gonna make. A final determination about the -- That we would. That was in the best interest the United States to pursue. Our conversations with the interim government in Egypt to hold them accountable or to hold them. And to remind them of the promises that they've made. About transitioning to a democratically elected civilian government in a transition that would occur promptly. And that that that these are all actions that will encourage them to respect basic human rights. To. Reflect the will of the Egyptian people. But it's also in the best interest of national security United States and ultimately when the presence making decisions like this that's what's first and foremost and -- mind. But it is certainly. In the interest the United States for there to be -- democratically elected government of Egypt that reflects the will of the people there that they were elected to government that they were elected to govern. And that respects the basic human rights that we here in the United States hold so dear and that frankly people all around the world expect to be protected by. Democratically elected government like. So evidently. You tell the American people call it who would cut out. Our influence there. Annoyed me being -- saint Edwards -- conference that. Look what. Well what -- trying to. City view is that there are certain legal obligations that go with the designation of -- -- and it has been determined by. Senior foreign policy officials in this administration -- to not make a determination. But rather to. Engage in a dialogue with the interim government of Egypt. And encourage them to follow through -- their promises to -- transition to a democratically elected civilian government. That's -- -- that that's what that's the focus of our conversations are. And that is what is in the best interest of the United States and frankly it is also what's in the best interest of the regional instability that's been created by some the unrest we've seen. Just one -- defensive what I wanted to do didn't play as the administration. Changed his position airline mergers why is this certainly. Between. The American Airlines and -- It's different than all the others have -- it's -- -- distance here. -- the to -- determined that determination it was a reached about. This merger was determination has reached by the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. No the head of that division bill bear as a news conference yesterday where he explained the determination has reached by the Department of Justice. That was an independent enforcement actions taken by the department of justice and I don't have anything to. To adds that there. Their conclusion. -- You -- she couldn't read out anything. He -- the president -- -- eat them reading specifics. I don't have any calls to read out at this point. So media content and and that at this point on on the decision to. And on another topic the president is in the road next week he's. Going on -- a bus -- can you give us some more specifics about that -- you respond to Republicans who say this is another example. Campaigning. And to what extent you. He's concerned that -- tweaking Republicans he actually makes it harder to get. There's a lot there. So -- and -- also a certain basic facts and and it's sort of points the inmate. And as many -- you've heard on Thursday August 22 the president will commence a two day bus tour through Pennsylvania. -- new York and Pennsylvania. Along the way he'll discuss the importance of ensuring that every American has access to a quality education. By reducing costs and improving the value of higher education for middle class students and their families. Stops along the way and it is here eagerly anticipated details the -- make stops in Buffalo, New York. Syracuse, New York bing and -- Binghamton, New York. And then name and as yet unscheduled stuff somewhere in northeastern Pennsylvania. So we'll have more details on on this as it northeastern -- Possibly -- night. As more details Cairo and across tonight in terms joined by what he's Mary this Mary -- this is the number one subject tip for Josh Earnest today in -- White House has been. Talking a lot and walking a fine line not wanting to call what is happening in Egypt right now military coup. -- saying it is quote not in our best interest to make that determination and there is they. The real reason why that is -- military -- to explain that to us. Of course -- what -- absolutely trying to strike a careful balance here and there's no question. That -- violence overnight makes -- -- even more difficult to achieve on the one hand. The White House wants to offer support for the military's proposals to return to democratic rule but on the other hand they also. Want to make sure that these crackdowns against against more C supporters are becoming more violent and that's the fine line at the White House is trying to walk here. Now we've heard Josh Earnest today meant he's saying that the White House condemns this violence of course the president was briefed overnight -- in Martha's Vineyard on vacation. But of course is always president and so he was -- overnight by his national security advisor Susan Rice. -- the admitted the White House today that this violence makes act passed to stability even harder that it makes achieving that democratic transition. More difficult. So right now the White House -- as you mention absolutely trying to walk that very fine line time and there's also one point three billion dollars in aid to the Egyptian army at stake Wednesday's holiday -- Absolutely so it's an interesting legal issue here but Denton US legal. Financial assistance to Egypt is intrinsically linked to whether or not the US labels -- the outing of -- president Morrissey. To be true or not now the White House last month to -- decided it legally after a long legal review. But it wasn't necessary to make a determination as to whether or not this was -- who are not. And by not having to come out publicly and say there was a -- not. They can continue to provide that one point five billion dollars in annual aid to Egypt. If it came out and decided after it was a -- that it would be cut off so absolutely this is a tricky difficult issue for them and and the financial -- is absolutely linked to those for those four letters whether or not this is -- who are not. -- and of course that aid is so important in terms of the stability of the country at the same -- -- saying there are regular conversations. With. People in Cairo. Yet at the same time he wouldn't confirm whether the US was told ahead of time that the military was going to make this week so it doesn't seem. Based on his statements today that there is and much control -- US has certainly over the situation and that the communication may not be as. As good as -- saying. Absolutely as you know as the White House is being as outlook today here I would say they're trying to walk this -- and they're trying to strike this balance and for right now all they can really -- -- the president is monitoring the situation. Speaking continue to urge the military actress restraint for protesters. Attacked and nonviolent way but -- -- -- -- the president can really do is monitor the situation. All right now with the US government has been funding the Egyptian military for decades. You know we talked about how essential that is in terms of stability there but. You know how much further do you think the White House can be pushed. That that's really the question is where this goes from here earning the ultimate fears of course that you don't wanna see a prolonged civil war -- if you don't want any of this unrest. To reach out and other areas of the regions and this is absolutely a big priority and a huge concerns of this administration and and for other global powers as well. Okay they call the violence last night -- quote step in the wrong direction and you know -- -- US continues to urge the military. To go forward and follow through the transition to a gimmickry and had a democratically elected civilian government. But this of course seems more and more unlikely with each day as opposed to more likely. That's absolutely right of course you know time is of the essence here and the longer this process seems to get drawn out -- more and more is. It more difficult it is to maintain that kind of trust in the interim government we heard deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest there mentioning that the US is you know continues today. To have -- and it continues to hope that the interim government will follow through on its promises. To quickly and safely return power to democratically elected government but -- the US also plans on holding in our government accountable so you know the clock is ticking and this is a big issue for them. We know where ousted president Mohammad Morrissey is today. Absolutely we do not and that's a big issue. -- interim government has been going to great lengths to keep his location. A huge -- secret he reportedly has been -- three times since he was ousted. Last month from power and and that's -- -- issue on one -- they wanted to protect his security but on the other hand if his location has publicly known it's possible that a lot of his supporters would come to demonstrate -- -- -- -- -- So as of now no one knows where -- -- as soon as senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham traveled to Cairo last week to help. They say and egyptians. It help egyptians and their political crisis. But by some accounts this did not go so well can you tell us about. They weren't -- -- underscored the of the administration's message message I think in part that the US is supportive of this peaceful transition but to also. Encourage that process along as we are talking about the timing here is absolutely in a critical issues so they are there really offering US support for the transition and -- -- They need the need for this happens as soon as possible. Now we know the president is vacationing right now Martha's Vineyard mass was the location of the briefing today. As the message here the president is certainly working very hard on this issue even while on vacation. Of course the White House absolutely wants a wants the public to know that while the president although he is on vacation -- absolutely still at work. Yesterday we saw the release of photos of the president being briefed. They don't want they want everyone to know -- the public -- be assured that the president is on top -- -- he is -- -- even though he may -- Martha's -- and knocked on the -- -- the life. Certainly when we see these images from -- -- -- why it is also important ABC's Mary Bruce I want to thank you so much. As we said no vacation for President Obama and the White House staff taking some tough questions. On American policy in Egypt on a day when the military crackdown on protesters there killing at least 95 civilians and two journalists. I'm tired and is in New York -- has been an ABC news special report. This has been a special group. Report from me.

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