Carney: US 'cautiously encouraged’ over Egypt election timetable

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the administration was "cautiously encouraged" by news that the military-led government in Egypt there had outlined a six-month timetable for a return to civilian leadership and elections.

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But the White House spokesman warned of the "incredible complexity and difficulty of this situation" and said the president would continue to engage with leaders in the region as Egypt looked to restore order following the military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi.

"We will not prescribe a timeline," said Carney. "We are cautiously encouraged by the announcement of a plan that includes a return to democratically elected government, that includes parliamentary and presidential elections."

Egypt's military-appointed interim president, Adli Mansour, announced a six-month timetable for the election of a new parliament in early 2014, the selection of a new president and the completion of amendments to the country's suspended constitution. 

The Muslim Brotherhood and other allies of Morsi in Egypt have said that the military timeline is illegitimate and said they would not participate in the elections. But Carney said that the elections could be the best path forward to returning civil control to the Egyptian government.

"What we have to focus on is, where do we go from here. How do we return to a democratically-elected government?" Carney said.

Carney also urged the inclusion of all political interests and urged a dialogue of "all parties forward toward a process of reconciliation." He added that he had seen a "dangerous level of polarization" and urged all sides to show restraint and resist violence.

Carney also acknowledged that there remained an "elephant in the room" as the White House continued to evaluate whether Morsi's overthrow met the legal definition of a coup. The ouster last Wednesday has put the White House in a bind, with some $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt's military and another $250 million in economic assistance in the balance. 

According to federal law, non-humanitarian aid must be withdrawn to “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”

On Tuesday, Carney reiterated that the administration was considering the security interests of the United States as it decides how to categorize Morsi's ouster.

"We have not made a determination about what to call or label the events in Egypt that led to the change in government there," Carney said, adding that the White House was undergoing a "deliberative process."

This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. An earlier version contained an incorrect quote attributed to White House press secretary Jay Carney.