U.S. To Continue Aid To Egypt After NGO Crackdown

Although the cases against U.S. democracy promoters in Egypt are not fully resolved, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has decided she won't withhold aid to the country. Senator Patrick Leahy, who placed conditions on the $1.3 billion the U.S. gives to the Egyptian military each year, is disappointed. He says the U-S is sending the wrong message. U.S. officials defend the move, saying they need partners in Egypt.

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Egypt's military will get its usual $1.3 billion this year from the U.S. government, that despite concerns about a recent crackdown on democracy and human rights groups. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waived some restrictions on the aid, angering many in Washington.

NPR's Michele Kelemen explains.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, placed conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt. And those conditions include staying on the path to democracy. Leahy says Egypt's temporary military rulers have not kept their promises to the Egyptian people and have been whipping up anti-American sentiment.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: And I don't want us to be in a position where we look like it's business as usual and we are rewarding them for that.

KELEMEN: Speaking by cell phone from a country road in Vermont, Leahy says it was a mistake for Secretary Clinton to wave the conditions on U.S. aid. He had been hoping the Obama administration would fund Egypt differently, not just put $1.3 billion in an Egyptian bank account in New York but rather, dole out the money little by little to maintain some leverage.

LEAHY: Well, I think that I would hold the money aside and say let's set some criteria - set some criteria showing that you are respecting the rights of your people; that you are working towards the democracy you promised. And as we see actual progress in that way, the money will be released.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials argue that leverage comes with a good relationship. And State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland says the U.S. can always re-evaluate its aid program, much of which goes to U.S. defense contractors for weapons and training.

VICTORIA NULAND: We have a huge number of interests and equities at stake in our relationship with Egypt. This is a strategic partnership. So, rather than talking about leverage, we're talking about partnership.

KELEMEN: Administration officials insist they're not giving up on democracy in the face of strategic and financial interests. Nuland says there's still work to be done, but Egypt has come a long way since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.

NULAND: Egypt itself is changing very fast. We have a new Egypt emerging.

KELEMEN: That will do little to allay the concerns of people like David Kramer, who runs a nonprofit called Freedom House, one of the democracy promotion groups caught up in a crackdown in Egypt. He says four of his Egyptian staffers in Cairo are still under indictment and face another hearing April 10th.

DAVID KRAMER: The charges against everyone who's been involved in this are still looming, including for the Americans and others who were allowed to leave the country. So the case is far from resolved even though the foreigners were allowed to leave Egypt several weeks ago.

KELEMEN: Kramer, who was reached in Brussels, says the signal the U.S. is sending now is harmful to these cases.

KRAMER: That sends a message that I think will be read in Egypt that the U.S. government was mostly concerned about the welfare and the ability of the Americans to leave the country, to leave Egypt, and that with their departure they're not paying as much attention as they were.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration did get some congressional support for waiving the conditions on aid to the Egyptian military. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, says that while recent developments in Egypt are, quote, "unnerving," it's in U.S. national security interests to provide assistance to the military, which has been a stabilizing influence in Egypt and the region.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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