CAIRO: The US will remove a freeze on $100 million earmarked for aid to Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Cairo Tuesday.
The American Congress originally froze this amount for several reasons, most notably due to what it considered a lack of Egyptian will to tighten security on the border with Gaza.
In a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit Tuesday, Rice said that this was now in the past.
“I have exercised on behalf of the United States the waiver in terms of Egyptian assistance, she said, “the Bush administration sought to have that flexibility. We believe that this relationship with Egypt is an important one and that the waiver was the right thing to do.
Congress had also attributed the freeze to domestic issues such as human rights violations and slow democratic reform, but it had presented the administration with an option to waive the freeze if it suited the “national security interest of the United States.
The decision to freeze the aid caused a storm in Egypt, with the Foreign Ministry leading the calls for non-interference in domestic affairs.
Despite ending the freeze, Rice reiterated her concerns about certain issues. “I have said to the foreign minister, even today, the importance the United States attaches to democracy and reform in Egypt and the importance that we attach to progress on those fronts. But yes, I have exercised the waiver, she said.
The US Secretary of State arrived in Cairo on Tuesday to push for headway in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which has been suspended by the Palestinian Authority ever since Israel launched a fierce offensive on Gaza.
She met with President Hosni Mubarak as well as Aboul Gheit and Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who had cancelled a trip to Israel in protest of the Israeli offensive on Gaza.
Aboul Gheit told the joint news conference, “We are trying to reach a ceasefire and a period of calm … We are trying to persuade the Israelis not to use this excessive force and this disproportionality in the use of force. That must stop.
Speaking to reporters on the plane before reaching Cairo Rice said, “I am going to have discussions with the Egyptians, with the Palestinians and with the Israelis about how you might get violence to stop. But first and foremost Hamas needs to stop firing rockets into Israeli cities.
However, she added that “obviously the situation in Gaza is one that is concerning. But … we need to continue to work, first of all to make certain that everyone understands that Hamas is doing what might be expected, which is using attacks, rocket attacks on Israel to try to arrest a peace process in which they have nothing to gain.
But Aboul Gheit had made it clear in the press conference that Hamas was a reality that must be dealt with on some level.
“We have to admit that Hamas is part of the Palestinian equation and Hamas will have to be tackled with, meaning that down the road, as we make progress, it will be a must that Hamas will have to be convinced to come on board, if they would mend their ways, he said.