EDGARTOWN, Massachusetts (Reuters) - The White House condemned a violent crackdown on protesters in Egypt on Wednesday and strongly opposed the declaration of a state of emergency made by Egypt’s military leaders.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest gave no indication that the United States is prepared to immediately cut off its $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt. He did say, however, that U.S. aid to Egypt is under review, as it has been for weeks.
“The world is watching what is happening in Cairo. We urge the government of Egypt - and all parties in Egypt - to refrain from violence and resolve their differences peacefully,” he said.
Washington has found it has little leverage to influence events in Egypt. The United States initially said it would review whether the Egyptian military’s July 3 ouster of elected President Mohamed Mursi was a coup, which would force Washington to cut off its assistance.
Officials ultimately decided not to make a decision about a coup one way or the other, a point that Earnest reiterated.
“It has been determined by senior foreign policy officials in this administration to not make a determination, but rather to engage in a dialogue with the interim government of Egypt,” he said.
Obama was briefed about the killing of at least 95 Egyptians and was being kept up to date on the situation by his national security adviser, Susan Rice. With death tolls ranging from 95 to 800, Earnest said U.S. officials were seeking clarification.
“We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint, and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we have urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully,” he said.
He spoke on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, where President Barack Obama is spending an eight-day vacation.
In Amman, the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, told reporters during a trip to Jordan that he expected to speak with his Egyptian military counterpart following Wednesday’s bloodshed.
Dempsey said he would renew U.S. calls for Egypt to work toward a democratic transition and keep “violence levels as low as possible.”
Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he wasn’t himself prepared to condemn the violence because from the reporting he had seen so far, it was unclear on what exactly had transpired.
“In the early moments after this kind of crisis, the reports are always unclear,” Dempsey said.
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Amman; Editing by Vicki Allen and Sandra Maler