The head of the Defense Department said the Egyptian people should not wait for U.S. support to end the violence that has accounted for at least 1,000 deaths there in the last six days.
"Our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, while speaking at a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart on Monday. "It's up to the Egyptian people. They are a large, great, sovereign nation and it will be their responsibility to sort this out."
Clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi continued on Monday as militants attacked a police convoy. The assault with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades could have been retribution for 36 detainees killed on Sunday. The prisoners on board a 600-person convoy were mostly arrested during protests in Cairo and were being transferred to a prison facility.
Hagel emphasized that the U.S. has serious interests in Egypt, which receives roughly $1.5 billion in U.S. military aid each year. Congress is split in its support for ending the shipment of those weapons and supplies.
The U.S. has long-standing respect for Egypt and interests in the Middle East, Hagel said, including the development of a settlement between neighboring Israel and Palestine.
"All nations are limited in their influence of another nation's internal issues," he said. "I don't think the U.S. is without influence, but that has to be a collaborative effort focused on what the Egyptian people want."
Egypt had been considered the great success story of the 2011 Arab Spring movement that toppled a series of authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood political party's inability to shift the country's economic decline, combined with a perceived exclusionary political practice, prompted the Egyptian military to force the president from office in early July. Supporters gathered in Cairo to press for his reinstatement and a continuation of the country's new democratic system.
Police and other security forces began a violent crackdown in mid-August that has spiraled into the current bloodshed.
Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, resigned from office citing the increased violence.
The White House has distanced itself from the issue, with President Barack Obama refusing to refer to Morsi's ouster as a coup d'etat, which would preclude the U.S. from continuing aid shipments.
The president has condemned the violence and said the U.S. would cancel annual military exercises scheduled for later this year.
"Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual as civilians are being killed in the streets," Obama said on Thursday from Martha's Vineyard, where he and his family spent a week's vacation.
Hagel declined to offer any specifics on how the U.S. relationship with Egypt might change, saying that the president's national security team is considering all options.
"We have serious interests in Egypt and that part of the world," he said. "We continue to work with all parties to try to help as much as we can."
"We're reviewing all aspects of our relationship," he said.