WASHINGTON — The Obama administration told lawmakers Thursday that it won’t declare Egypt’s government overthrow a coup, U.S. officials and lawmakers said, allowing the United States to continue providing $1.5 billion in annual military and economic aid to the Arab world’s most populous country.
William Burns, the State Department’s No. 2 official, held closed-doors briefings with House and Senate members just a day after Washington delayed delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. It was the first U.S. action since the military ousted Mohammed Morsi as president, imprisoned him and other Muslim Brotherhood members and suspended the constitution earlier this month.
The administration has been forced into difficult contortions to justify not declaring a coup d’etat, which would prompt the automatic suspension of American assistance programs under U.S. law. Washington fears that halting such funding could imperil programs that help to secure Israel’s border and fight weapons smuggling into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, among other things seen as critical to U.S. national security.
Lawmakers said the administration hasn’t characterized the upheaval as a coup, and may never do so, as it remains determined to continue providing Egypt with aid. That assessment supported administration officials who said they weren’t using that word to describe the power change and don’t plan to in the future as Egypt moves to restore civilian governance and holds new democratic elections.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said legislators were looking at making the U.S. coup law more flexible for similarly ambiguous cases in the future by adding waivers or conditions to help the administration. But in Egypt’s case, Corker conceded: “It may never be determined what just happened.”
His counterpart on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., also endorsed the idea of a waiver to give the administration the ability to call a coup what it is without facing automatic cuts. Inhofe said he has drafted such legislation already.