The Bush administration waived a restriction on military aid to Egypt imposed by Congress.
Congress had imposed the restriction in part because of Egypt’s failure to control its border with the Gaza Strip.
In a joint news conference Tuesday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had waived the restriction on $100 million of the $1.4 billion Egypt receives annually from the United States in defense assistance.
“We believe that this relationship with Egypt is an important one and that the waiver was the right thing to do,” said Rice, who is on a trip to the region to salvage the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The $100 million was to have been transferred from military assistance to pro-democracy groups unless Egypt took steps to ease its crackdown on such groups and to stop arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
The restriction arose out of frustration in the U.S. Congress with increasing limitations on political and other freedoms in Egypt.
Rice referred to those concerns. “I have said to the foreign minister even today the importance of – that the United States attaches to democracy and reform in Egypt and the importance that we attach to progress on those fronts,” she said.
The legislation’s language on smuggling into the Gaza Strip, introduced late in the legislative process, led Egypt to blame the pro-Israel lobby in the United States for the restriction. Egypt threatened reprisals against Israel.
In fact, pro-Israel groups mostly stayed out of the fight. The impetus within Congress for the funds freeze had originated with one of Israel’s tougher critics, U.S. Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.).
The defense package for Egypt dates back to the 1979 Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel.