President Barack Obama expressed deep concern about Egypt's removal of President Mohammed Morsi on Wednesday and called for a swift return to a democratically elected civilian government.
In a written statement commenting on dramatic events unfolding in Cairo, Obama said he had directed relevant U.S. agencies to review the implications of the military intervention to determine whether it would have any impact on U.S. aid.
He urged the Egyptian military to avoid any arbitrary arrests of Morsi and his supporters.
"During this uncertain period, we expect the military to ensure that the rights of all Egyptian men and women are protected, including the right to peaceful assembly, due process, and free and fair trials in civilian courts," he said.
Meanwhile, the State Department is ordering nonessential U.S. diplomats and the families of all American Embassy personnel to leave Egypt after the Egyptian military removed Morsi and in anticipation of potential violence.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to discuss it publicly, said the State Department had placed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on "ordered departure" status for nonemergency staff and dependents all employees. That means that those covered by the order are required to leave the country.
It was not immediately clear if an evacuation operation would be mounted or if those departing would use commercial airlines or passenger ships to leave.
Earlier, the State Department declined to criticize Egypt's military, even as it was ousting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from power.
Minutes before Egypt's army commander announced that Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, had been deposed and the constitution suspended, the State Department criticized Morsi, but gave no public signal it was opposed to the army's action.
Asked whether the Egyptian army had the legitimacy to remove Morsi from power, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "We're not taking sides in this."
Related: Egyptian Army Overthrows President in Coup
Earlier, Psaki made clear that U.S. officials were disappointed in Morsi's speech on Tuesday night. In that speech, Morsi said he would defend the legitimacy of his elected office with his life.
Morsi must "do more to be truly responsive" to the concerns of Egyptian people" after huge rallies over the weekend, she said. "We are calling on him to take more steps."
Live video of protesters in Cairo.
Role of Military
Specifically, Psaki said Morsi should call for an end to violence, including violence against women. He should also take steps to engage with the opposition and the military and work through the crisis in a political fashion, she added.
In a daily briefing with journalists, Psaki was asked at least six times either to give an opinion about the Egyptian military's role in the crisis, or to say whether their actions amounted to a coup.
"We think that all sides need to engage with each other and need to listen to the voices of the Egyptian people and what they are calling for and peacefully protesting about. And, you know, that's a message we've conveyed at all levels to all sides," she said when asked whether Washington sided more with the armed forces than with Morsi.
The head of the Egyptian armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, spent a year at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania from 2005 to 2006.
The military move also presents Obama with a dilemma over continuing U.S. aid to Egypt. Underlying the importance for Washington of keeping ties to Egypt's military, Secretary of State John Kerry in May quietly approved $1.3 billion in military assistance, even though the country did not meet democracy standards set by the U.S. Congress for it to receive the aid.
U.S. law requires most American aid to be cut off "to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d'etat or decree."
But the law gives the State Department discretion to decide whether a coup has taken place, according to Republican and Democratic congressional aides.
Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said on Wednesday his panel would review the $1.5 billion in annual assistance the country sends to Egypt in the wake of the Morsi's ouster.
"Egypt's military leaders say they have no intent or desire to govern, and I hope they make good on their promise," Leahy said in a statement. "In the meantime, our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree."
The International Monetary Fund is likely to wait until it is clear who is in charge in Egypt before considering whether to renew talks on a $4.8 billion loan program. The Washington-based lender traditionally does not do business with countries undergoing serious political turmoil.
"We are following the situation in Egypt closely. The developments of the last few days are very serious. We hope all of the participants will work constructively for a peaceful outcome," an IMF spokesperson said.
Egypt and the IMF have held protracted negotiations over a loan needed to help combat a severe economic crisis. The talks have stalled as Morsi rebuffed IMF conditions that he cut fuel subsidies and raise sales taxes.
© 2022 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.