US State Dept Seeks to Unblock $450 mn for Egypt

The US State Department said Monday it would work with Congress to try to unblock some $450 million in economic aid for Egypt, after a lawmaker froze the funds.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the US administration had asked Congress to free up the money in two tranches to support the government in Cairo.

But she said there were "concerns" about the plan amid rocky ties between the United States and Egypt, under its new Islamist leader, President Mohamed Morsi.

"We're obviously going to have to work with the Congress in the coming days and weeks to explain why we think this money is so essential at a time of almost 12 billion (dollars) in budget gap in Egypt," Nuland told reporters.

"Why we think supporting the democratic trajectory of Egypt in a phased way is in US interests, because we obviously firmly do. And we will continue to work with the Congress on that."

The money is part of a billion dollars in extra support pledged to Egypt by President Barack Obama last year. It is separate from $1.3 billion in military funding which Washington already provides to Cairo.

Republican congresswoman Kay Granger, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Relations, on Friday put a "hold" on the application, meaning it could be held up indefinitely.

"This proposal comes to Congress at a point when the US-Egypt relationship has never been under more scrutiny, and rightly so," Granger said in a statement.

"I am not convinced of the urgent need for this assistance and I cannot support it at this time."

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