Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said U.S military assistance to Egypt isn’t subject to a law requiring a cutoff of U.S. aid to an elected government deposed in a military coup.
The Obama administration is reviewing whether the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi requires suspending about $1.5 billion in U.S. aid, of which $1.3 billion is in the form of military assistance.
A U.S. law requires denying “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.”
Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said today that applies only to non-military aid.
“We ought to suspend the aid which the law says needs to be suspended,” Levin told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. He said the $1.3 billion in military assistance could continue at the president’s discretion.
President Barack Obama requested $1.55 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Economic assistance makes up about $256 million of that.
Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since 1979, after Israel, according to the Congressional Research Service. The world’s largest Arab country has received $1.3 billion a year in military aid since 1987.
Lawmakers have differed over whether U.S. aid should be suspended.
“Our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign operations, said in a statement earlier this month.
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, pledged to “review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said in a 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.”