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EU mulls cutting Egypt aid; Cairo vows to 'review' West ties

Aug. 19, 2013 at 2:30 AM   |   Comments

BRUSSELS, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- European countries are to mull cutting aid to Egypt Monday in a crisis review of ties in view of the violent crackdown on anti-regime activists, officials said.

Cairo responded defiantly, saying it would now "review" its strategic relationships with the West in light of the European Union meeting and U.S. disapproval of the military-led interim government's anti-Islamist actions.

"Egypt is a key partner of the European Union. We share interests in and responsibility for the maintenance of peace and stability in a strategic region," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a joint statement ahead of the meeting of senior EU official in Brussels.

But last week's violence is "extremely worrying," Barroso, head of the EU's executive branch, and Van Rompuy, whose council is made up of all EU countries' heads of state and government.

"The calls for democracy and fundamental freedoms from the Egyptian population cannot be disregarded, much less washed away in blood," Barroso and Van Rompuy said.

"The EU will remain firmly engaged in efforts to promote an end to violence, resumption of political dialogue and return to a democratic process," they said.

To this end, the 28 EU member states will "urgently review" the EU's "relations with Egypt and adopt measures aimed at pursuing these goals," they said.

Nothing will be off the table Monday, officials said. EU foreign ministers could vote on approving any scaling back in aid or other changes as early as Wednesday or Thursday, EU diplomats told The Wall Street Journal.

The EU in November pledged up to $6.7 billion in grants and loans to Egypt through 2013 after the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi became president.

Much of the money was tied to democratic or economic reforms and little has been spent.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy flatly rejected the EU warning, calling the Egyptian crackdown an internal affair and repudiating what he said was an EU attempt to make the Egyptian situation international in scope and character.

"The attempts to internationalize the discussions about this event is something that Egypt rejects," Fahmy said in Cairo Sunday. "I ask the Foreign Ministry to review the foreign aid of the past and to see if those aids are used in an optimal way."

He said Egypt was "not looking to replace one friend with another, but we will look out to the world and continue to establish relations with other countries so we have options."

Besides the EU plans, some Egyptians expressed outrage U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday canceled next month's Operation Bright Star joint-military exercises with Egypt.

Obama said the exercises were off in light of the hundreds of civilian deaths last week when the military forcefully dispersed two pro-Morsi protest camps and the sustained killings and rights clampdown that followed.

Operation Bright Star, which began in 1980, is rooted in the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel.

Obama, in his remarks, did not suspend the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. military and economic aid to Egypt, which Washington has given since the early 1980s. But he said Thursday he ordered his national security team to consider "further steps that we may take as necessary."

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