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Obama Asks Graham, McCain to Travel to Egypt

Tuesday, 30 Jul 2013 05:06 PM

 

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President Obama has has asked Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain to travel to Egypt to meet with its military leaders and the opposition, as Cairo's allies struggle with how to address the turmoil convulsing the country.

 

McCain and Graham, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, hope to travel to Egypt next week, Graham said on Tuesday.

"The president reached out to us, and I said obviously I'd be glad to go," Graham told reporters outside the Senate. "We want to deliver a unified message that killing the opposition is becoming more and more like a coup" and to encourage the military to move toward holding elections.

He said specifics of the trip, including with whom he and McCain would meet, had not yet been worked out.

McCain and Graham, two of the Senate's most influential voices on foreign policy matters, have at times been harsh critics of Obama's foreign policy. The White House has recently been reaching out to them on a range of issues.

U.S. officials have been grappling with how to respond to the situation in Egypt since its elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by the military on July 3.

In particular, they have struggled with how to handle the $1.55 billion in mostly military aid Washington sends to Cairo each year. Egypt has long been an important U.S. ally in a tumultuous region and officials in Washington value their ties to its military leaders, many of whom have studied in the United States.

U.S. law bars sending aid to countries in which there has been a military coup, and Obama administration officials have been scrambling to talk about events in Egypt without using the word.

Morsi is being held in a secret detention facility in Egypt. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, on Monday became the first outsider to see him since he was deposed. His fate - and a deadly crackdown by security forces on his supporters - has raised global anxiety about a possible bid to crush Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Senator Rand Paul has introduced an amendment to a Senate transportation funding bill that would end military aid to Egypt under the law banning aid after coups and redirect the money to domestic infrastructure projects.

Senate Republicans discussed how to deal with the amendment during their weekly lunch meeting on Tuesday. It could come to the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday, although it was not expected to win much support.

The Obama administration has made clear it does not want to make a decision about events in Egypt - or the aid.

Several Republicans, including McCain, Graham and Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said they thought the situation in Egypt was too fluid for a vote so soon.

"I may come to think we need to cut off aid, but I'd like to go over there and talk to the military and to any members of the government and Brotherhood factions to find out what is going on on the ground, and send a clear message to the people in charge of Egypt that there are certain expectations here in America that are bipartisan in nature," Graham said.

Corker said he felt Washington needed to weigh in one way or the other on whether the situation in Egypt was a coup, and look at changing the law if necessary.

"We can't just leave it hanging out there. We are a nation of laws. That's where we need to go," he said. "But now is not the time, September is the time to do after we know the best route forward."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday called on Egypt's military to show restraint in the wake of often deadly protests.

Hagel spoke to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by telephone after EU foreign policy chief Ashton's visit to Morsi.

Hagel spoke to Sisi "to discuss the security situation in Egypt and urge restraint by Egyptian security forces in dealing with ongoing protests," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

The two spoke about Ashton's visit and "the need for an inclusive reconciliation process," Little said.

The United States has repeatedly urged restraint by Egypt's military since its ouster of Morsi, an Islamist who was the nation's first democratically elected leader.

But the United States has refused to use the term coup, a designation that would require a cutoff in US aid, even after the killing of 82 people in a pro-Morsi protest on Saturday.

Ashton said she was able to see Morsi and that he was doing well. The ousted president has not been seen in public since he was toppled.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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