Obama in no hurry to make decision on freezing aid to Egypt

The Obama administration made it clear Wednesday that it's in no hurry to make a hard choice on whether to freeze aid to Egypt after the army toppled the country's democratically elected president.

White House spokesman Jay Carney vowed on Wednesday to “take our time” to determine whether President Mohamed Morsi's ouster exactly one week ago was a coup, which would trigger an aid freeze. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to deliver four more F-16s to the Egyptian military over the coming weeks, Reuters reported.

“We are evaluating how the authorities are responding to and handling the current situation [in Egypt],” Carney said. “We will take our time and the time necessary to make determinations regarding what happened last week and the change in leadership, the removal of President Morsi from power.”

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U.S. law bars assistance to countries that topple their governments in military coups. The United States gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid and another $250 million or so in economic aid every year.

Carney would not confirm the F-16 deliveries, but said none of the aid that was already in the pipeline would be affected.

“On the broader question of aid, you're correct that it's our view that we should not, you know, hastily change ... our aid programs,” he said. “I'm not aware of the schedule for delivery of certain assistance, [but] I certainly haven't heard of any changes.”

About two-thirds of the military aid for this fiscal year has already been obligated, according to Senate appropriators. Administration officials have said they are considering the widespread public support for Morsi's ouster and the military's handling of the aftermath — including a rapid return to democratically elected civilian rule — in making their coup determination.

Carney went on to defend U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, who has come under fire for allegedly siding with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood in public statements warning against street protests. He said Obama still has confidence that she can be an effective advocate for U.S. interests in the country.

“She's doing a great job,” Carney said. “And I think that ... the suggestion that an ambassador to a country by engaging with the government is somehow picking sides misunderstands the ... function that ambassadors serve.”

The congressional response has been largely muted, with only a handful of lawmakers — most notably Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — calling for an aid freeze in the wake of what they labeled a “coup.”

“We ought to suspend aid until the new government shows that it is willing to — and in fact does — schedule elections and put in place a process to come up with a new constitution,” Levin told reporters on Monday.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), by contrast, has made it clear he thinks cutting aid is a bad idea. He's called for an exception to the “coup” language.

“I don't think that skirting the law here is the right thing to do. The president should come to Congress and make the case,” Rogers told CNN over the weekend. “I think there's a great case to be made here that we should continue to support the military, the one stabilizing force in Egypt that I think can temper down the political feuding that you're seeing going on now.”

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