WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama urged Egypt’s military Wednesday to hand back control to a democratic, civilian government without delay, but stopped short of calling the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi a coup.
In a news release, Obama said he was “deeply concerned” by the military’s move to topple Morsi’s government and suspend Egypt’s constitution. He said he was ordering the U.S. government to assess what the military’s actions meant for U.S. foreign aid to Egypt.
Under U.S. law, the government must suspend foreign aid to any nation whose elected leader is ousted in a coup d’etat. The United States provides $1.5 billion a year to Egypt in military and economic assistance that is considered a critical U.S. national security priority.
“I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters,” Obama said.
The United States wasn’t taking sides in the conflict, committing itself only to democracy and respect for the rule of law, Obama said.
Obama huddled in the White House Situation Room on Wednesday afternoon with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and his new national security adviser, former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
In his news release after the meeting, Obama said he expected the military to protect the rights of Egypt’s men and women to due process and peaceful assembly. He reaffirmed his call for a democratic Egypt that involves participation from secular and religious parties alike.
“The voices of all those who have protested peacefully must be heard, including those who welcomed today’s developments, and those who have supported President Morsi,” Obama said, urging all sides to refrain from violence.
Egyptian military leaders have assured the Obama administration that they were not interested in long-term rule following their toppling of Morsi.