State Dept. says decision forthcoming on military aid; progress on transition to civilian government is key.
WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could decide next week whether to resume US military aid to Egypt, which has been embroiled in a dispute with the United States over democratic freedoms, the US State Department said on Friday.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Clinton has not yet made any decisions despite a New York Times report that said the Obama administration planned to resume the assistance.
Congress has already approved $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, $250 million in economic aid and up to $60 million for an "enterprise fund."But for the military aid to flow, the law requires Clinton to certify that the Egyptian government is supporting a transition to civilian government, including holding free and fair elections, and implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion and the due process of law.
The conditions were attached to the US military aid by Congress for the first time late last year as lawmakers expressed concern about human rights in Egypt under the generals who assumed power after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
The US law allows Clinton to issue a waiver allowing the assistance to go forward if she deems this to be in the US national interest.
"She [Clinton] may be ... in a position to make these decisions by the middle of next week, but we'll just have to see," Nuland told reporters, adding that Clinton was consulting with lawmakers, think-tanks and others about the decision.
US officials have warned the generals running Egypt the country's recent crackdown on pro-democracy groups jeopardized continued US military aid, a cash transfer that began after Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979.
Egyptian authorities accused US, Egyptian and other pro-democracy campaigners, including the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of working for groups receiving illegal foreign funding, and initially prevented some of them from leaving the country.
Most of the US pro-democracy activists flew out of Egypt on March 1 after Egyptian authorities lifted a travel ban, a move that appeared likely to defuse the dispute. But the Egyptian charges have not been dropped against either the Egyptian or foreign activists.
Senator Patrick Leahy, author of the conditions on the US military aid, warned on Friday that he believed it would be a mistake for Clinton to waive them.
"The new conditions are intended to put the United States squarely on the side of the Egyptian people who seek a civilian government that respects fundamental freedoms and the rule of law," the Democratic senator said in a statement.
But Leahy added that even if Clinton waived the conditions, the secretary of state could release the funds at whatever rate she chose. In that case he hoped she would release no more money than necessary, "withholding the rest pending further progress in the transition to democracy."