Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the brand new chairman of the Senate International Relations Committee, pledged on Saturday to dam the discharge of $235 million in navy assist to Egypt, a transfer that might power the Biden administration to reverse its choice to prioritize nationwide safety pursuits over Congress’s considerations concerning the nation’s human rights document.
In a press release, Mr. Cardin additionally threatened to withhold future navy assist for Egypt until the nation made demonstrable progress on releasing political prisoners, enhancing situations for human rights activists and different points.
“I consider it’s crucial that we proceed to carry the federal government of Egypt, and all governments, accountable for his or her human rights violations,” Mr. Cardin mentioned. “I intend to train absolutely the committee’s oversight tasks and my authorities to dam future international navy funds in addition to the sale of arms to the federal government of Egypt if it doesn’t take concrete, significant and sustainable steps to enhance the human rights situations on this nation.”
Mr. Cardin’s transfer comes simply days after he took over the chairmanship of the international relations panel from Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who was indicted final week on prices of taking bribes to facilitate gross sales of navy gear to Egypt and assist an Egyptian American with shut ties to the federal government in Cairo along with his halal meat certification enterprise.
These allegations have elevated the strain 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 assist is transferred.
Mr. Menendez, who stepped down from the committee chairmanship, has maintained his innocence.
Mr. Cardin advised reporters this week that as chairman he would “make it possible for our international coverage is wrapped in our values: democracy, human rights, anti-corruption, transparency, and accountability.”
However the choice to double down on that promise with regard to Egypt’s navy assist put him in direct battle with the Biden administration.
State Division officers beforehand determined that the safety relationship between Cairo and Washington was too very important to jeopardize by withholding the $235 million in navy assist and that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was urgent the Egyptian authorities on human rights points in different boards.
On Friday, Consultant Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and the rating member of the International Affairs Committee, known as on the State Division to “pause a portion of U.S. navy financing to Egypt that’s conditioned on human rights standards,” arguing that Congress “wanted extra readability” on how these considerations have been being addressed.
The Republican leaders of the Senate and Home international affairs panels haven’t publicly registered any objections.
For many years, the State Division has deferred to the leaders of the Senate and Home panels overseeing international affairs once they objected to weapons transfers to international governments, although the Trump administration contemplated ending that observe, and used its emergency powers to outmaneuver Congress in 2019.
Egypt has been one of many prime recipients of U.S. navy assist since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and at the moment is awarded roughly $1.3 billion per yr in international navy financing. A portion of that assist 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.
Within the fiscal cycle that ends on Saturday night time, $320 million of Egypt’s navy help was purported 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 could be awarded to Egypt, much like selections in earlier years to waive congressional stipulations and supply Egypt with assist that was purported to be tied to its human rights efficiency.
State Division officers declined to say how the company would reply to Mr. Cardin’s announcement. A spokesman mentioned that officers have been persevering with to carry discussions with Congress about the way to present Egypt with the navy assist Mr. Cardin had moved to dam whereas guaranteeing that Cairo makes progress on human rights.
Edward Wong contributed to this report.