Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr Monday and told him the United States wants to see President Mohamed Morsy share power in Egypt, following his decree last week placing his decisions above judicial review.
Reports from Egypt Monday said that Morsy was considering limiting his decree that the judiciary has no right to review his decisions to only "sovereign" matters -- although the meaning of that is unclear -- following widespread international criticism and protests on the streets of Cairo. Morsy's original decree declared that he was above review until a new constitution was written and a new parliament was elected.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today that Clinton urged Morsy to be inclusive.
"She took that opportunity to reiterate some of the points that you saw in our statement [last week], that we want to see the constitutional process move forward in a way that does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands, that ensures that rule of law, checks and balances, protection of the rights of all groups in Egypt are upheld, et cetera," Nuland said.
In that statement, Nuland said, "One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution."
"Our understanding from the Egyptian side is that there are now discussions ongoing among a number of the stakeholders, that President Morsy is conducting consultations with various groups, including with the judiciary. We had called for that in our statement, and the secretary underscored that, the importance of settling these disputes in a democratic manner," Nuland said.
Nuland declined to characterize Morsy's decree as "undemocratic." The State Department says its position is consistent with U.S. calls for inclusive and democratic processes that have been communicated since the start of the Egyptian revolution last year.
"They are operating in a very unclear political environment now, as they try to get a constitution drafted, approved, put forward to referendum. So there are a number of things at play, but our enduring principles on which our support is based haven't changed through any of this," Nuland said.
Morsy didn't warn Clinton he was planning the move, even when she was there and met with him personally, Nuland said. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today that Morsy's power grab was completely unrelated to his role in brokering and enforcing the Gaza ceasfire.
"We see those as separate issues. The president's interest was in working with the parties involved," Carney said.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Sunday that U.S. foreign aid to Egypt could be at stake if Morsy continues to consolidate power outside of the democratic process. He urged the Obama administration to more forcefully condemn Morsy's move and directly threaten an aid cutoff.
"This is not what the United States and American taxpayers expect and our dollars will be directly related to the progress towards democracy, which you promised the people of Egypt, when your party and you were elected president," McCain said. "Our leverage, obviously, is not only the substantial billions in aid we provide, plus, debt forgiveness, plus an IMF deal, but also the marshalling world public opinion is also against this kind of move by Mr. Morsy."
Nuland said that the IMF makes its own decisions about political conditionality on its loans, but emphasized that the agreement between the IMF and Egypt on $6 billion in assistance is still supported by the U.S. government -- for now. "We think that Egypt needs IMF support. It also needs to be on the reform path that it and the IMF have now agreed to," she said.
U.S. administrations have been reluctant to explicitly link aid to Egypt to political developments. In March, Clinton decided to use a national security waiver to allow more than $1.5 billion of U.S. aid to Egypt, bypassing congressional restrictions even while the Egyptian government's assault on NGOs in Cairo continued.
But Nuland hinted that Congress might have other ideas. "With regard to U.S. [economic support funds], as we made clear, we support clearing this through the Congress, but the Congress is also watching democratic developments in Egypt."
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Clinton called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy.