WASHINGTON — The U.S. is moving ahead with plans to deliver four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt despite the ongoing debate about the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi and whether it legally constitutes a coup that could shut off aid to the country.
Defense officials say senior administration leaders discussed the delivery and decided to let it continue. The fighters are part of a $1.3 billion package approved in 2010 that included 20 F-16s and some M1A1 Abrams tank kits. About half of the aid package has been dispersed, officials said.
Eight of the F-16s were delivered in January, the next four are expected to be delivered in the coming weeks and the final eight are to be sent later this year.
News of the impending weapons delivery to the Egyptian armed forces came as the administration continued to make the case that it is staying neutral in the crisis.
The White House and State Department reiterated the view Wednesday that it would not be in the United States' national security interests to interrupt U.S. aid to Egypt, including to the armed forces, as would be required by law if Morsi's ouster is determined to have been a coup.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration is going to take its time to make any determinations about the implications of Morsi's removal from power.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted that aid to Egypt "has been around for quite some time and has a range of reasons as to why we do it." And Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller said: "We remain committed to the U.S.-Egypt defense relationship as it remains a foundation of our broader strategic partnership with Egypt, and serves as a pillar of regional stability." He said the U.S. will work with Egyptians to support a quick return to a democratically elected civilian government.
The comments come after a week of violence and widespread demonstrations and as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other U.S. leaders make repeated calls to their counterparts in Egypt urging an end to the violence and a quick transition to a civilian government. Hagel has spoken to Egypt's defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, eight times in the last nine days, with one phone call lasting as long as 45 minutes.
U.S. officials have expressed satisfaction with the military-backed interim government's plans to restore democratically elected civilian leaders.
Islamist members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement have denounced the ouster and demanded Morsi's release from detention and his reinstatement.
The Islamists have accused Egyptian troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed backers of Morsi for attempting to storm a military building.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.