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U.S. Senator: Aid to Egypt should hinge on crackdown on weapons smuggling

U.S. Senator: Aid to Egypt should hinge on crackdown on weapons smuggling

Future U.S. aid to Egypt should depend on Cairo cracking down on weapons smuggling into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, an influential U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.
Sen. Arlen Specter said he was upset by the smuggling, calling it "an intolerable situation" for Egypt to be "complicitous" in the smuggling.
"Egypt can do a lot more," said Specter, a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. "And if they don't, I think it would be appropriate to condition aid to them on that factor."
Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a member of the House Appropriations Committee traveling with Specter, said he agreed with the senator.
Washington gives Egypt about $2 billion (euro1.4 billion) in annual aid, including $1.3 billion (euro900 million) in military assistance.
Proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress this year would have withheld $200 million (euro140 million) of the military aid unless Egypt clamped down on weapons smuggling and improved its human rights record. But the aid package went through the U.S. Senate.
Israel says the Islamic militant Hamas has stepped up arms smuggling since it violently seized control of Gaza in June. It has urged Egypt to take tougher action against smugglers along the border with Gaza.
Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, spoke as Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, headed to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. The weapons-smuggling issue was expected to be high on the agenda.
Later this week, Specter is set to travel to Syria, where he said he would encourage President Bashar Assad to launch peace talks with Israel.
Specter, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said he is convinced both countries want to restart a dialogue. "Prime Minister Olmert told us that he's interested, that he's looking for a signal from Syria," he said.
Syria attended last month's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in what was widely seen as an attempt to gain favor with Washington. The U.S. disapproves of Syrian meddling in Lebanon, Damascus' support for anti-Israel militant groups and its alliance with Iran.
Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush rejected dialogue with the Syrian leader, saying his "patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago."
Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat, said he would tell Assad not to expect any change in American policy after this year's presidential elections.
"I want to make sure that he understands that if he thinks he can wait out President Bush in the anticipation that if a Democrat is elected there's going to be a change of policy, he is sorely mistaken," he said.
Last month's conference in Annapolis launched a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after seven years of violence. The negotiations, however, have gotten off to a rocky start, with the Palestinians angry over Israeli plans to build some 300 homes in disputed east Jerusalem.
Specter reacted coolly to Palestinian pleas for the U.S. to step up pressure on Israel. He said ultimately Israel and the Palestinians would have to work out their differences themselves.


Updated : 2021-08-02 03:55 GMT+08:00