By Justin Sink - 08/19/13 06:15 PM EDT
The White House is reviewing the $1.3 billion in military aid provided to Egypt amid rising pressure from Congress to suspend it.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration is evaluating the aid given violence in Egypt that has killed hundreds.
He added that senior administration officials, in one-on-one conversations with military leaders in Egypt, “have made clear that it is incumbent upon the interim government in Egypt to transition back to a democratically elected government.”
Top Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) called for the immediate suspension of the assistance.
“With the recent violent crackdown I do not see how we can continue aid,” Ayotte told NBC News. “I believe it must be suspended because unfortunately I think that the military's gotten the impression — particularly with the president not asking for aid to be suspended when he spoke this week — that whatever they do, we will continue our aid.”
Democrats, including Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), echoed the concern, saying future gifts should be conditional on a return to democratic governance and protection for free speech and minority rights.
“The acts of the last few days by the Egyptian military are completely unconscionable and I do believe we have to change our aid,” Reed said on “Meet the Press.”
“I think also we have to have included in the legislation a national security waiver because we have to give the president not only the responsibility to deal with the government of Egypt but also flexibility,” he said.
The administration has thus far been reluctant to cut off aid, which has long been seen as giving the U.S. leverage. The U.S. wants to maintain its counterterrorism alliance with the country, as well as preserve access to the Suez Canal, a crucial shipping thruway.
Earnest said that going forward, the White House was considering what impact cutting off aid “is going to have on our national security,” and what “aspects of American law apply” to making the decision.
The U.S. also has a vested interest in maintaining the positive relationship that has blossomed between Egypt and Israel after the 1978 Camp David Accords.
In fact, recent reports from Israel suggest that country is strengthening ties with the military there, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could soon weigh in to defend the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has pledged to help Egypt if the U.S. or European Union revokes aid, further complicating the administration’s calculus.
Earnest said Monday that he was unaware of the Saudi pledge and refused to say whether the administration was upset by the promise to replace any funds American authorities decided to pull.
He also defended the administration from charges of inaction, saying that the U.S. had already delayed the delivery of fighter jets that were slated to be turned over to the Egyptian military. He also noted President Obama's announcement last week that he would cancel joint military exercises planned for later this year.
The White House spokesman declined to comment on reports that former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak could be released from prison this week. Mubarak ruled the country for three decades before his ouster in 2011, but his release has the potential to further inflame the pro-Morsi demonstrators.
“President Mubarak is part of an ongoing Egyptian legal process,” Earnest said.
But he reiterated that the U.S. objected to the imprisonment of Morsi following his ouster by the military, calling it a “pretty clearly politically motivated detention that is not in line with the human rights standards.”