ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said last night that U.S. aid to Egypt should be suspended, and Senator Levin joins us now. Welcome to the program once again.
SENATOR CARL LEVIN: Good to be with you.
SIEGEL: In a nutshell, why suspend aid to Egypt?
LEVIN: Well, first of all, the law requires that we suspend the non-military aid if there's a coup or if there's a decree which the military is behind and so I think under our laws, we have to suspend at least the non-military part. But in terms of aid in general, I just think while we may welcome the departure of President Morsi, who deepened his country's divisions more than solved the problems of his country, nonetheless, the manner in which this change was made with an army taking charge runs against our values and what we are arguing that we want to happen in the Middle East and anywhere else in the world.
SIEGEL: You're quoted by Politico as saying: We ought to suspend aid until the new government shows that it's willing to and, in fact, does schedule elections and put in place a process to come up with a new constitution. Their interim president has released a timetable - it's about six, seven months - new constitution, parliamentary elections, presidential election. Does that satisfy those conditions?
LEVIN: No, it doesn't. Not quite yet, because the new interim president may say that is a timetable but it is still just a statement. Until this is set in law with a timetable which is binding, even if there is no revised constitution adopted, this does not satisfy me. We've had too long a history in this country of finding rationalizations for backing coups which the military have carried out.
SIEGEL: But let me ask you this, Senator Levin. Doesn't acknowledgment of the interim president and whatever timetable he produces - doesn't that amount to acceptance of the leadership that's been installed by the army? That is, you're not saying put Morsi back in office. If you're going to accept the fruit of last week's events, why worry about the roots of it?
LEVIN: Because... (Chuckling) It makes a big difference as to whether or not we accept the process here. It's not just the people. We probably would prefer someone other than Morsi - I would. That's not the issue. The issue is that the process which was used here cannot just simply be accepted. And that means that its fruits have got to be challenged. And we've got to find some way to express our dislike of a process which is so fundamentally undemocratic and which runs square on against the values which we say we believe in. We've got to prove we believe in them.
SIEGEL: What do you say to those Egyptian liberals like Mohamed ElBaradei or Amro Hamzawi - there are many of them who say, look, this isn't really just a coup, this is a military action in response to petitions of 22 million people, massive crowds throughout the streets. The military was, indeed, expressing the will of a country which has a - as they see it - a very imperfect constitution.
LEVIN: I say it's a rationalization of overthrowing a democratically elected regime. That's what I would say. And I would also say that, for the most part, as far as I can tell, started out and was a nonviolent demonstration against Morsi. We should support nonviolent demonstrations but that's very different from saying we're going to support a military takeover just because there's a huge number of people that are in the streets.
SIEGEL: The Israelis evidently lobbied Washington heavily not to cut off aid. The Saudis are walking in with five billion. They're our friends in the region. Should we pay attention to their opinion of what's happened in Egypt?
LEVIN: Of course, we should, then reach our own opinion. I mean, I can't tell you that our opinion is absolute. Of course, we listen to our friends, including the Israelis and we should. But we should take into consideration their arguments and then reach our own decision based on what we think our security interests are. And I don't believe it is in our security interests to be going along with the overthrow of a freely elected democratic government.
SIEGEL: Senator Levin, thank you very much for talking with us today.
LEVIN: Sure, good being with you.
SIEGEL: That's Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who advocates cutting off military aid to Egypt because of the military's action there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.