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By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday cautiously welcomed a plan from Egypt's interim government to hold quick elections but did not address "the elephant in the room" of whether a military coup had taken place.
Less than a week after the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's interim head of state Adli Mansour announced that parliamentary elections would be held in about six months, followed by presidential elections.
The announcement came a day after 55 people were killed when troops fired on a crowd of Mursi supporters.
"We are encouraged the interim government has laid out a plan for the path forward," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing. "The details of a path back to a democratically elected civilian government are for the Egyptian people to decide," she added.
Washington has dodged the thorny issue of labeling the military intervention a coup because it would require the Obama administration by law to halt aid to the Egyptian army.
In fiscal year 2014, President Barack Obama has requested $1.55 billion in aid for Egypt, with $1.3 billion of that for the military and $250 million for economic support.
The army said it was acting on popular will because millions of people had taken to the streets to demand Mursi's resignation. The White House has pointed out that millions of Egyptians had wanted a change from the democratically elected Mursi government.
"There's an elephant in the room here," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, referring to whether there had been a coup.
"It is in our national interest - the best interest of the United States and the best interest, in our view, of our goal of assisting the Egyptian people in their transition to democracy - to take the time necessary to evaluate the situation before making such a determination," he said.
NO CONTACT WITH MURSI
The Obama administration's caution with the situation in Egypt appears to reflect a desire not to be seen as supporting one side or another.
"I can assure you we are not aligned with or supporting any particular party or group," Psaki said.
She said the Obama administration had been in touch with representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood but that there had been no contact with Mursi since his arrest.
The worst day of violence in more than a year has left Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, more divided than ever in its modern history, and added pressure on the military-led authorities to explain how they will restore democracy.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has held five conversations in the past five days with the head of Egypt's armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, including one on Tuesday.
"We believe that the violence needs to be reduced in Egypt," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters. "And we hope that we see steps to work through this crisis and see a political process instituted in Egypt that is responsive to the Egyptian people."
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bill Trott and Xavier Briand)