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7 Aug, 2013 16:40

State Department on Egypt: 'We have determined that we don’t need to make a determination’

State Department on Egypt: 'We have determined that we don’t need to make a determination’

Facing mounting pressure to make a decision on whether the US government considers the Egyptian military uprising a coup, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that “we have determined that we do not have to make a determination.”

Associated Press reporter Matt Lee extensively questioned Psaki about the State Department’s stance during a Tuesday press conference. While he was unable to get an answer about the government’s leaning on the issue, he was able to show how far the Obama administration is willing to go to avoid using the word “coup."

The Egyptian military overthrew the government after mass protests demanding the resignation of former president Mohamed Morsi erupted at the end of June.

If the US was to characterize the events as a coup, it would be required to suspend the $1.3 billion aid it provides Egypt each year. Under the US Foreign Assistance Act, countries whose duly elected heads of governments are deposed by military coup or decree are ineligible for US assistance.

The White House delayed a shipment of F-16s to Egypt while considering its options, but then informed members of Congress that it did not want to call the uprising a coup. 

Sen. John McCain was the first US politician to describe the ousting of Morsi as a coup, which by definition is a "sudden deposition of a government."

“We have said we share the democratic aspirations and criticism of the Morsi government that led millions of Egyptians into the streets,” McCain said at the end of his recent visit to Cairo, where he and Sen. Lindsey Graham met with senior officials. “We’ve also said that the circumstances of [Morsi’s] removal was a coup. This was a transition of power not by the ballot box.”

When questioned about McCain’s comments, Psaki said that “Senators McCain and Graham are certainty entitled to their opinions, just as any member of Congress is…the US government has stated what our opinion is.”

But that opinion was not clear, and Psaki faced tough questions about what exactly the White House's stance truly is. Lee asked the spokeswoman if the Obama administration’s position was that it "did not have a position” – a statement that Psaki said disagreed with, but nevertheless restated in different words.

“Our position is that we do not need to make a designation,” she said.

“We have determined that we do not need to make a determination,” she added, leaving the interpretation of her statements up to the media.

The spokeswoman has quarreled with AP reporter Matt Lee before. Last month, Lee extensively questioned her about the Edward Snowden case, asking whether it’s a crime for Russia to “let someone into their own airport” and asking her whether Moscow should deny someone the right to travel or whether Snowden should be denied the right to free speech.

“I didn’t realize people who were wanted on charges forfeited their right to speech – to free speech,” Lee said. “I also didn’t realize that people who were not whistleblowers or not human rights activists, as you say he is not, that they forfeited their rights to speak, so I don’t understand why you’re disappointed with the Russians.”

The spokeswoman was unable to explain herself yet again.

In mid-July, Psaki and Lee had yet another argument about Egypt. Lee was challenging her to explicitly state that the US was pushing for Morsi’s release, but Psaki said that she would not “play this game” and failed to explain the State Department’s position – a response which now appears to be a routine one.