US new arms deal to Egypt
Egypt-USA, Politics, 11/28/2001
The Bush administration is planning to sign with Egypt a$ 400 million arms deal Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The proposal has alarmed some of Israel's supporters on Capitol Hill, and several are trying to block the transfer, according to the paper.
In a classified memorandum sent to congress on November 2, the administration notified lawmakers on this issue, the paper said.
The United States gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid annually so in that respect the proposed arms transfer is nothing out of the ordinary.
But the deal is proving more troublesome than most: with Arab-Israeli relations under strain and American Jewish groups accusing Egypt of insufficiently supporting the war on terrorism, some key lawmakers are reluctant to provide the country with sophisticated technology they say could blunt Israel's "qualitative" military edge.
Earlier this month, Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell to ask him "to provide a rationale for making the sale at this time," according to Biden's spokesman, norm kurz.
Senator Jesse Helms, the ranking republican on the committee, also expressed concern about the proposed transfer, congressional aides said, as has Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.
"A stable and prosperous Egypt is in our interest, while an arms race between Israel and Egypt is not," Lantos said in an interview.
State Department, White House and Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment on the administration's proposal, citing its classified nature.
But a U.S. government official was quoted as saying that "They (Egypt) have been a strategic partner with US".
"The administration would not recommend selling a weapons system if they thought it would undermine Israeli security, and we don't think this one does."
Israel opposes the deal but has decided against doing "anything high-profile" to prevent it; the paper quoted an Israeli official in Washington.
In the post-September 11 world, we understand there are larger strategic interests," the official said. "Having said that, if we are asked for our opinion, there are concerns in Israel-"
Major American Jewish groups, citing the stance of Morton Klein, President of the Zionist organization of America, which is a lobbying member of congress to block not only this deal but also all military aid to Cairo, share Israel's concern.
"Who is Egypt planning to go to war against?" Klein asked, adding, "The only country we can think of is Israel."
The paper quoted Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to Washington, as saying that the deal "will not be used against anybody who does not attack us."
A US government official defended Egypt's record as an ally, describing its cooperation with anti-terrorism efforts as "excellent."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the official said, Egypt has shared intelligence.
Under existing rules, the state department memo alerting congress to the proposed deal triggered a 20-day comment period.
If the administration decides to proceed with the deal, it will publicly notify Congress.
Lawmakers then would have 30 days to pass a resolution opposing the arms sale, but the President could veto the resolution.
Congress, therefore, would need a two-thirds majority to block a proposed sale or transfer, a level of opposition that has never been reached, congressional aides said.
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