By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican senators pushed for more transparency on aid to Egypt, if not an outright end to the $1.3 billion per year in military assistance, as U.S. officials struggled on Monday with how to respond to the crisis in Cairo.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced an amendment to a Senate transportation funding bill that would end military aid to Egypt under a U.S. law banning aid to countries that have experienced military coups, and redirect the money to domestic infrastructure projects.
Senate aides said on Monday that the bill and Paul's amendment were likely to come up for a vote this week, just days after a Senate appropriations subcommittee voted to continue aid to Egypt, subject to conditions.
U.S. officials have been grappling with how to respond to the situation in Egypt since its elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, was ousted by the military early this month.
Without specifically blaming the Egyptian military, the White House on Monday condemned the weekend bloodshed in which security forces shot dead at least 80 supporters of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, but said it had taken no steps to suspend U.S. military assistance to the country of 84 million people.
Paul also sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - co-signed by four other panel Republicans - asking that senior State Department officials testify at a hearing on the situation in Egypt this week.
The witnesses for the hearing on Thursday now include only outside experts, not administration officials.
"Egypt is in turmoil, and the direction the country takes will directly impact United States policy in a region of deep and longstanding importance to the economy and security of our nation," Paul wrote in the letter, obtained by Politico.
The letter was co-signed by Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jim Risch of Idaho and John Barrasso of Wyoming.
The committee made no immediate response to the letter, which was sent days after the hearing was announced.
Lawmakers from both parties are divided on how to address the crisis in Egypt, which has been an important U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Three Republican members of the committee did not sign Paul's letter: Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel; John McCain, a leading Senate voice on foreign policy issues; and Jeff Flake, McCain's fellow senator from Arizona.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)