Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the brand new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pledged on Saturday to block the discharge of $235 million in navy support to Egypt, a transfer that might drive the Biden administration to reverse its choice to prioritize nationwide safety pursuits over Congress’s issues concerning the nation’s human rights report.
In a assertion, Mr. Cardin additionally threatened to withhold future navy support for Egypt except the nation made demonstrable progress on releasing political prisoners, enhancing circumstances for human rights activists and different points.
“I believe it is imperative that we continue to hold the government of Egypt, and all governments, accountable for their human rights violations,” Mr. Cardin mentioned. “I intend to exercise fully the committee’s oversight responsibilities and my authorities to block future foreign military funds as well as the sale of arms to the government of Egypt if it does not take concrete, meaningful and sustainable steps to improve the human rights conditions in this country.”
Mr. Cardin’s transfer comes simply days after he took over the chairmanship of the overseas relations panel from Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who was indicted final week on costs of taking bribes to facilitate gross sales of navy tools to Egypt and assist an Egyptian American with shut ties to the federal government in Cairo together with his halal meat certification enterprise.
Those allegations have elevated the pressure on lawmakers, notably Democrats, to distance themselves from Mr. Menendez and demand that Egypt meet congressionally mandated benchmarks on human rights earlier than the navy support is transferred.
Mr. Menendez, who stepped down from the committee chairmanship, has maintained his innocence.
Mr. Cardin informed reporters this week that as chairman he would “make sure that our foreign policy is wrapped in our values: democracy, human rights, anti-corruption, transparency, and accountability.”
But the choice to double down on that promise with reference to Egypt’s navy support put him in direct battle with the Biden administration.
State Department officers beforehand determined that the safety relationship between Cairo and Washington was too important to jeopardize by withholding the $235 million in navy support and that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was urgent the Egyptian authorities on human rights points in different boards.
On Friday, Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and the rating member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, referred to as on the State Department to “pause a portion of U.S. military financing to Egypt that is conditioned on human rights criteria,” arguing that Congress “needed more clarity” on how these issues had been being addressed.
The Republican leaders of the Senate and House overseas affairs panels haven’t publicly registered any objections.
For many years, the State Department has deferred to the leaders of the Senate and House panels overseeing overseas affairs after they objected to weapons transfers to overseas governments, although the Trump administration contemplated ending that follow, and used its emergency powers to outmaneuver Congress in 2019.
Egypt has been one of the highest recipients of U.S. navy support since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and presently is awarded roughly $1.3 billion per yr in overseas navy financing. A portion of that support is conditioned on Egypt making enhancements on human rights, nevertheless, although Congress offers the administration a waiver that can be utilized to skirt these necessities.
In the fiscal cycle that ends on Saturday evening, $320 million of Egypt’s navy help was supposed to be tied to the federal government’s progress on human rights, however the Biden administration elected to withhold solely $85 million.
Two weeks in the past, the administration introduced that the remaining $235 million can be awarded to Egypt, related to selections in earlier years to waive congressional stipulations and supply Egypt with support that was supposed to be tied to its human rights efficiency.
State Department officers declined to say how the company would reply to Mr. Cardin’s announcement. A spokesman mentioned that officers had been persevering with to maintain discussions with Congress about how to present Egypt with the navy support Mr. Cardin had moved to block whereas guaranteeing that Cairo makes progress on human rights.
Edward Wong contributed to this report.