By Elise Labott
The United States urged Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsy to call early elections with anti-government demonstrations intensifying and the Egyptian military pressuring him to resolve the situation, senior administration officials told CNN privately.
"We are saying to him, 'Figure out a way to go for new elections,'" one senior official said on Tuesday. "That may be the only way that this confrontation can be resolved."
The source asked not to be identified due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter.
But publicly, the administration pushed back at the characterization that it urged early elections.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki went so far as to say reports saying so were inaccurate.
“It's not up to the U.S. to make that decision or to make that call,” Psaki said.
White House, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan also disputed that the United States is “urging” Morsy to call early elections.
“President (Barack) Obama has encouraged President Morsy to take steps to show that he is responsive to the concerns of the Egyptian people and underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process. As the president has made clear since the revolution, only Egyptians can make the decisions that will determine their future,” Meehan said.
In multiple conversations with Morsy and his aides, the other officials told CNN that U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and other senior State Department officials have explained that the demands the Egyptian people are making on the street are similar to the ones both Washington and allies have been urging Egypt to take for weeks.
At the same time, the senior administration officials who spoke with CNN stopped short of saying Morsy should step down immediately.
Those officials say the United States also has warned the Egyptian military that it risks losing U.S. aid if it carries out a military coup amid the political crisis.
“We are trying to get President Morsi to appoint a new prime minister, a new Cabinet and get rid of the prosecutor general,” one senior official said. “This is the kind of outreach he needs to do to demonstrate to the opposition that he is governing all Egyptians. So far he hasn’t done anything to show that. “
Obama reiterated in a phone call with Morsy on Monday that the Egyptian leader must take action, the officials said.
Although the officials said nothing in the Egyptian constitution gives Morsy the authority to call for new elections, they noted it may be the only way to end the political crisis that has engulfed Egypt.
Officials have also warned the Egyptian military that any military coup would trigger U.S. congressional legislation calling for ending American aid, which totals about $1.5 billion per year.
“There are specific consequences,” the senior official said. “As much as we appreciate their statement that they intend to protect the Egyptian people, they need to be careful about how they inject themselves into the situation. We are telling them that playing a role with their ultimatum to get the two sides together is completely appropriate, but anything that looks like a military takeover is walking a very thin line.”
Conversations with the opposition have basically reiterated the U.S. line to the government and military, the officials said.
The United States has been concerned about the perception that the Obama administration was in support of Morsy. But officials hoped the deliberately muted U.S. response to the Egyptian military’s statement would signal Washington does not support the president’s non-democratic behavior.
“We really have been pushing him since his November 23 constitutional fiasco,” another official said.
One senior official said the United States doesn’t know how the political crisis will end up, and doesn’t know the opposition’s bottom line.
“We aren’t sure they know their bottom line,” the official said.