Congress blocked Kerry from offering more aid to Egypt

Secretary of State John Kerry had hoped to offer considerably more aid to Egypt than the $250 million he announced during his trip to Cairo but was blocked by Congress, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said.

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“This is not the aid package that the administration wanted to announce,” Royce told The Hill. The administration wanted to release a “larger sum,” but bowed to the wishes of Royce's committee as well as congressional appropriators, he said.

Royce wouldn't say how much Kerry had hoped to announce, but the State Department has been pressing Congress to greenlight $450 million in direct aid since last fall.

“Our approach is not the full-throttle administration approach of delivering all the aid that they wanted to deliver, but rather a measured approach of tying tranches to results as it pertains to the peace treaty with Israel, to cooperation with respect to smuggling [into Gaza] and with respect to economic reforms to guarantee civil rights and the rule of law within Egypt,” he said. “That's the pressure that we're applying.”

Kerry announced the new aid package last Sunday during a stop in Cairo as part of his first trip overseas. The money includes $190 million in budgetary support that's part of the $1 billion in debt relief President Obama pledged in 2011, along with $60 million for an enterprise fund.

The aid, Kerry said, was a “good-faith effort to spur reform and help the Egyptian people at this difficult time.”

The $190 million comes from the $450 million cash transfer the administration proposed last year to give to Egypt to shore up an economy hammered by the Arab Spring. That money would be culled from funds left over from past Egypt appropriations going back to 2006 (the country gets $1.3 billion in military aid and another $250 million in economic aid every year under the terms of the 1978 Camp David accords leading to peace with Israel).

The forme chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and the chairwoman of the appropriations subpanel on foreign aid, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), placed a hold on the money out of concern over the Muslim Brotherhood government's democratic credentials and pro-U.S. stance. A Granger staffer said the chairwoman has been in continuous contact with the State Department over the funds and acquiesced to lifting her hold on the $190 million slice that Kerry announced.

Ros-Lehtinen lost her ability to hold the money when Royce succeeded her as chairman in January. She bristled when asked about Kerry's trip this past week.

“I’m glad he’s wrapping up this trip,” she told The Hill, “because every stop he makes he makes more of a promise of financial aid to our so-called allies. And if he doesn’t wrap up this tour soon, we’ll be further bankrupt.”

At the time he offered the aid, Kerry hinted that more money could be coming if Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's government can win Congress over.

“The United States can and wants to do more,” he said. “When Egypt takes the difficult steps to strengthen its economy and build political unity and justice, we will work with our Congress at home on additional support.”

--Check back with The Hill on Sunday for more from our exclusive conversation with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

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