Menendez: Egypt aid can be ‘leverage’

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Sunday said the U.S. could use its foreign aid package for Egypt as “leverage” to push the country back to democracy, days after the military ousted elected President Mohamed Morsi.

Menendez did not call for suspending aid, but said it could help “ensure we end up with an Egypt for all” by pressing the military to transition quickly back to civilian rule and free elections.

"We have to make sure the military gets a very clear message that we want to see a transition to civilian government as quickly as possible. I think we have to get a process in which we urge all the parties to participate together, that we come to an election as soon as possible," Menendez said.

Egypt receives nearly $1.5 billion a year in aid from Washington, but that aid could be threatened after the military removed Morsi from power following weeks of mass protests against his rule.

Members of his Muslim Brotherhood party have vowed to return him to power and the country has seen violence between pro-and anti-Morsi factions.

Lawmakers on Sunday appeared split about what influence the U.S. can have in Egypt following the ouster of its first democratically elected government. 

Some, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have called for withholding aid to Egypt, while others including the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have declined to do so.

The U.S. is a major benefactor of Egypt's military, though President Obama has sought to avoid taking sides in the ongoing conflict.

The administration has also declined to call the military takeover a “coup,” because that language would trigger legislation which could block the flow of aid to Cairo.