By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator John McCain pressed on Monday for the United States to suspend its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, saying the removal of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi from office appeared to be a coup led by the military.
McCain said he understood that Mursi's removal was undertaken with broad public support and could eventually lead to a more representative civilian government.
But as Washington debates how to respond to events in Egypt, he said in a statement that U.S. law forbids foreign assistance to countries where there has been a military coup against an elected government.
"It is difficult for me to conclude that what happened was anything other than a coup in which the military played a decisive role," said McCain, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services committee and a leading congressional voice on foreign affairs.
"I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time," he said.
McCain began calling for the suspension of Egyptian aid last week.
Some other lawmakers have said Washington should wait and see how things develop in Egypt before deciding what to do about the aid. President Barack Obama's administration said on Monday it is not in the best interest of the United states to immediately change the program.
The United States is due to provide $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid to Egypt this year, almost all of which would be stopped if the administration formally deemed Mursi's ouster a coup.
So far this year, two-thirds of the military aid has been disbursed, but very little, if any, of the economic aid has made its way to Cairo, congressional aides said.
At least 51 people were killed in Cairo on Monday when the Egyptian army opened fire on supporters of Mursi in the deadliest incident since the elected Islamist leader was toppled by the military five days ago.