WASHINGTON - The Obama administration signaled Monday that U.S. national security interests will trump its promotion of Egypt's budding democracy, stressing the importance of continued aid to the Egyptian military, which overthrew the elected president last week.
As violence blazed between security forces and supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the White House and State Department both urged the military to exercise "maximum restraint." They also said the military would not be punished with a cutoff of its $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid for toppling Morsi.
But if the American government makes a legal determination that the removal was done through a coup d'etat, U.S. law would require ending all non-humanitarian aid to Egypt, the vast majority of which goes to the military.
Administration officials said lawyers were still reviewing developments to make that ruling. However, the absence of a coup determination, coupled with the administration's refusal to condemn Morsi's ouster, sent an implicit message of U.S. approval to the military.
And officials said the White House had made clear in U.S. inter-agency discussions - as recently as a Monday conference call - that continued aid to Egypt's military was a priority for America's national security, Israel's safety, and broader stability in the Middle East.
"It would not be in the best interests of the United States to immediately change our assistance program to Egypt," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. He stressed that more elements - notably what the United States deems best for itself, its Mideast allies, and the larger region - than just the physical removal from office of a democratically elected leader would be considered in the legal review.
"We are going to take the time necessary to review what has taken place and to monitor efforts by Egyptian authorities to forge an inclusive and democratic way forward," Carney told reporters. "And as we do, we will review our requirements under the law, and we will do so consistent with our policy objectives. And we will also, of course, consult with Congress on that."
Some members of Congress appeared divided.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) criticized Morsi's performance as president but stressed that he had been elected by a majority of Egyptians in 2012.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), in comments Monday, emphasized the important role of the Egyptian military, but said, "I think we'll wait for consultations with the administration on how we would move ahead."