President Barack Obama met with his top national security advisers yesterday at the White House to discuss the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, with the fate of U.S. aid hanging in the balance.
The Situation Room meeting of Obama and members of his National Security Council came as U.S. officials weigh how to respond to the Egyptian military’s overhaul of their elected government. The White House and most leaders in Congress have so far avoided using the word “coup,” a definition that could cost Egypt more than $1.5 billion in annual military and humanitarian aid under U.S. law.
Administration officials including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel placed calls to counterparts in Egypt to stress the “importance of a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an e-mailed statement.
U.S. officials told Egyptian leaders they needed to have a “transparent political process that is inclusive of all parties and groups,” according to Meehan. Administration officials said Mursi and his supporters shouldn’t be arbitrarily arrested, according to Meehan’s statement.
Kerry spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, while Hagel called Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi, who announced July 3 that Mursi had been removed from power.
Kerry also called Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and foreign ministers in Norway, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, Meehan said. Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice also spoke with their Israeli counterparts.
Obama said July 3 he has “directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the impact under U.S. law for our assistance to the government of Egypt.” U.S. law blocks directly financing “any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree,” or a coup “in which the military plays a decisive role.”
By the letter of the law, the July 3 ouster of the democratically elected Mursi and suspension of the constitution could cost Egypt the $1.3 billion in annual military aid that it receives, as well as about $256 million a year in economic assistance. Military aid to Egypt funds M1A1 tanks jointly produced with General Dynamics Corp., as well as Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighter jets.
Obama requested a total of $1.55 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt in his fiscal 2014 budget. The president didn’t address Egypt during brief remarks to armed service members and their families at the White House’s annual Independence Day barbecue.
One U.S. official who’s been in contact with some Egyptian counterparts and asked not to be identified, said the army’s move wasn’t a military coup. Instead, the official said, it was an effort to block what some Egyptian officers -- and some Americans -- have feared was a slow-motion takeover by Islamists.
Congress is on a week-long recess for the July 4th holiday. Leaders who have commented on Mursi’s ouster have generally echoed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who said in a July 3 statement that “the Egyptian military has long been a key partner of the United States and a stabilizing force in the region, and is perhaps the only trusted national institution in Egypt today.”
An exception was Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate president pro tempore and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign operations. While Leahy called Mursi’s time in office a “great disappointment,” he said in a statement that the law is clear: “U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree.”
Beyond U.S. aid, the International Monetary Fund and Egyptian authorities have been negotiating the terms of a possible $4.8 billion loan to Egypt. An IMF spokeswoman, who asked not to be further identified, said in an e-mail on July 1 that the fund was following developments closely.