U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the green light Friday for U.S. military aid to Egypt despite concerns that Cairo was not meeting goals in its democratic transition.
Clinton waived conditions placed by Congress on the 1.3 billion dollars of aid - requiring Egypt to meet certain democratic reforms before being granted the funds - saying the move was in the United States' national interest.
"These decisions reflect America's over-arching goal: to maintain our strategic partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Nuland pointed to progress made in elections but said the U.S. remained concerned about protection for non-governmental organizations and other issues.
"Egypt's transition to democracy is not yet complete, and more work remains to protect universal rights and freedoms. The Egyptian people themselves have made this clear to their own leaders," she said.
Congress passed a law late last year that required Egypt's military rulers to support a transition to civilian rule, hold elections and protect religious freedom in order to get the longstanding U.S. aid.
Clinton cleared Egypt for 200 million dollars in economic aid and said it was meeting the conditions of its peace treaty with Israel.
Senator Patrick Leahy, who had been among the policy's strongest proponents after U.S. non-governmental organizations and their workers in Egypt were harassed by authorities, expressed disappointment in the State Department decision.
"Waiving the new conditions on democracy and human rights is regrettable, and handing over the entire 1.3 billion dollars at once to the Egyptian military compounds the mistake by dissipating our future leverage," he said.
"Using this waiver authority, at this time, sends a contradictory message. The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy."
Congress had acted to step up pressure on Cairo after the offices of the U.S. NGOs and other international groups were raided and workers were temporarily kept from leaving the country. A trial in the case is set to resume next month.
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