Egypt: U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: Egypt

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Washington, DC — Excerpt form the United States Department of State daily press briefing:

QUESTION: Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Egypt, yeah.

QUESTION: The referendum is set to start tomorrow morning. Any worries and/or concerns that it's going to inflame the situation more?

MS. NULAND: Tomorrow morning?

QUESTION: Saturday.

MS. NULAND: December 15th.

QUESTION: Well, for the Egyptians that are abroad, it starts on Wednesday. Anyway, it's still - I mean, without the judiciary supervising and everything.

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we spoke about this quite a bit yesterday. We continue to have deep concerns about the situation in Egypt. Our Ambassador and our other officials there are talking to all of the different stakeholders. We again call on those who are demonstrating to do so peacefully. We call on Egypt's leaders and security forces to respect the right of peaceful expression and to exercise restraints.

Look, as we've said for a number of days now, key stakeholders in Egypt are raising real and legitimate questions, both about the substance and about the process for moving to a constitutional referendum this weekend. And there are also concerns about public order surrounding the polling. So we want to see these issues resolved democratically, we want to see them resolved consensually, we want to see them resolved through a process of consultation without any preconditions that results in more national unity in Egypt, more democracy in Egypt, and a sense of belonging for all Egyptians. That said, we can't make these decisions for Egyptians. They're going to have to figure this out themselves.

QUESTION: Toria, there is --

QUESTION: You don't think the referendum should be postponed until some - I see, just as we were coming in, there was - there's - they're going to have talks tomorrow. Would that not be perhaps an occasion to delay the referendum until some of these issues can be sorted out?

MS. NULAND: Again, there are plenty of people on one side or the other that want the U.S. to declare itself. These are decisions that Egyptians have to make. We're setting forward the principles that are guiding our approach to this.

QUESTION: But let me ask you on the role of the military. I mean, Mr.

Morsi made statements in the last 24 hours that in essence allow the military far more latitude than it did, let's say, before this crisis.

So are you concerned that the military may be garnering more power than it should?

MS. NULAND: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday, too. We want to see security forces, in implementing and supporting public order, to exercise restraint, to respect the right of peaceful protest.

I also made the comment yesterday that we don't want to see any return to the bad old days of the Mubarak era in terms of security practices.

So those are the principles, again, that guide our approach to this.

QUESTION: I know you keep saying that this is an Egyptian thing, but as an ally - Egypt is an ally - don't you advise them that perhaps it is best for the country and the future of the country to postpone the referendum and actually (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: Again, what we are saying is this is a decision that they have to make. But clearly, there are concerns. There are concerns on all sides.

QUESTION: The IMF said that it's delaying its financial assistance package due to events on the ground and this change in promises on tax collection and so on. Do you have any view on whether or not that's a good thing, given Egypt's precarious financial situation? And secondly, does that - in itself or separately - is there any change in your attempts to push through more U.S. aid for Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Well, we understand that Egypt and the IMF are talking now about resuming discussions about a standby agreement. They've obviously got to work this out together before the IMF can put anything forward to the board. We, as you know, continue to want to see economic reform in Egypt. It's standard when the IMF is in negotiation about these kinds of agreements with countries that they have a clear, agreed horizon with regard to the financial underpinnings of the country, with regard to the reform steps that are going to take place. And those conversations, as we understand it, continue and they're not yet finished.

QUESTION: Could U.S. aid continue if there was no such agreement between the IMF and Egypt? Is the IMF package sort of essential to creating a viable economy that the U.S. can then assist with more help?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly, we want to see them come to agreement.

Certainly, we want to be in a position to support an agreement. There are aspects of the U.S. support for Egypt that are tied to the IMF coming to agreement. We've talked about this before, Andy. And there are parts that aren't tied. So obviously, those parts that depend on the reform standards that the IMF and Egypt agree to can't move forward till after.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that this sort of impasse of the IMF or the slowdown in their talks is going to affect the receptivity on the Hill for more U.S. aid?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Hill is obviously, as they have been saying, are looking at lots of factors in Egypt before moving forward with the money that is pending up there. So again, this speaks to the whole democratic trajectory of Egypt both on the political front and on the economic front.

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