U.S. Senators Going to Egypt Amid Dispute Over American Workers

Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator John McCain said he’ll be among a group of senators traveling to Egypt as early as next week amid a dispute over charges against American pro-democracy workers.

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters yesterday that the visit will include discussions about U.S. military aid to Egypt.

Obama administration officials and lawmakers have criticized Egypt’s plans to prosecute 43 people associated with non-governmental organizations, including U.S. citizens. The dispute has strained ties between the U.S. and Egyptian military leaders over the pace of the country’s transition to democracy and raised questions about the future of U.S. aid to Egypt.

U.S. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will continue to press the case of the Americans during a separate, previously planned visit to Egypt later this week, a U.S. military official said.

Dempsey plans to meet with his counterpart, Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Enan, and other Defense Ministry officials in Cairo, the official said on condition of anonymity because the trip hasn’t been announced.

Egyptian authorities said they have charged 19 Americans while U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland yesterday put the number at 16, about half of whom aren’t now in Egypt. Several of the Americans in Egypt have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Cairo, according to Nuland, who withheld both the precise number and the names.

President Barack Obama must certify to Congress that Egypt is making progress toward democracy for U.S. aid to continue.

Aid ‘in Jeopardy’

“Congressional support for Egypt -- including continued financial assistance -- is in jeopardy,” McCain of Arizona said yesterday in a joint statement with Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent.

“A rupture in relations would be disastrous, and the risks of such an outcome have rarely been greater,” the senators said.

U.S. aid to Egypt, linked to the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, has averaged about $2 billion a year since then, according to the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress. Most of the aid goes to Egypt’s army.

Sam LaHood, who works for the International Republican Institute, and Julie Hughes, the Egypt country director for the National Democratic Institute, are among those who face prosecution, Judge Ashraf el-Ashmawy told reporters in Cairo Feb. 6. The groups are accused of “accepting funds and benefits from an international organization” to pursue an activity “prohibited by law” and carrying out “political training programs,” the judge said.

Congressional Interest

The Washington-based groups are close to Republicans and Democrats in Congress. LaHood is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican House member.

The senators’ trip to Egypt will involve stops in other countries. McCain didn’t specify the itinerary or identify other senators who will be on the delegation.

Dempsey’s visit will be his first to Egypt since taking office, and the agenda also includes discussions of joint military exercises, common threats and the new U.S. defense strategy, the official said.

Pentagon officials including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have emphasized the need to resolve the dispute over non-governmental organizations while continuing to maintain a military relationship that is important to U.S. interests in the region.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net