US dodges questions on Egypt army chief's presidency hopes

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US officials on Monday, Jan 27, 2014, deflected questions about plans for Egypt's army chief to run for the presidency, but stressed it was important to maintain "checks and balances" between the military and government.

"Only the people of Egypt can take the next steps in their transition," said White House spokesman Jay Carney as the Egyptian military backed its commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stand in presidential elections slated for mid-April.

"As they make these decisions for themselves, we will continue to urge them to do so in keeping with the spirit of their revolution and in line with the commitments the interim government has made," Mr Carney added.

"While the Constitution affords some improved protections for human rights, we remain concerned about provisions within it allowing civilians to be tried in military courts. Checks and balances between the military, the civilian government and the judiciary will also be important."

A chunk of some US$1.5 billion (S$1.9 billion) in US aid to Egypt has been frozen since October amid alarm in the US administration following the military's ouster of elected Islamist president Mohamad Morsi in July.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki confirmed the aid remained on hold, as the US reviews progress in returning its important Arab ally to democracy.

"There's no decision at this point" about resuming aid, she told reporters.

"We believe that the government needs to have an advanced and inclusive transition process that leads to a democratic civilian-led government elected through credible and transparent elections," Ms Psaki said.

"But again, it's up to the Egyptian people to determine their future."