Egyptian delegation set for US

 A military delegation from Egypt is set to visit US next week as Cairo's crackdown on pro-democracy organizations has raised questions over the future of American aid to the country.

The Egyptian delegation hopes to meet with officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, the foreign ministry said here today.

It will also hold talks on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will soon consider a new request for aid to Egypt's military, which now runs about USD 1.3 billion per year.

The visit of the delegation comes after last month's crackdown by Egypt's military-led authorities on non-governmental organizations, several funded by the US government, and the recent travel bans on six American staffers including a son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former congressman.

Political analysts say the crackdown, along with questions over Egypt's Emergency Law and security forces' treatment of women protesters, has raised questions over Egypt's fledgling democracy following last year's overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak.

Earlier, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in Washington said American officials were pressing Egyptian authorities over the crackdown, which she described as "bizarre." The US has demanded that Egypt lift travel restrictions placed on a number of foreign NGO staffers.

"We do not have progress since yesterday, I am sorry to report," Nuland said. The six US citizens work with the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute.

Both receive US public funding and are loosely affiliated with the two major political parties in Washington.

"The assertions of the Egyptian government in these cases are that they are subject to a judicial process which is not complete," Nuland said, adding "Our message back is, 'Complete these formalities and let our people travel as soon as possible.'"

Political sources said the Egyptian delegation was expected to discuss the NGO issue on Capitol Hill, where a number of Senators have warned that US aid to Egypt was at stake if action against the NGOs continue.

"Continued restriction of their activities and harassment of international and Egyptian staff will be looked at with great concern, particularly in light of Egypt's considerable US assistance," 11 Senators said in a letter dated January 18 to Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the chief of Egypt's ruling military council.

President Barack Obama spoke with Tantawi on January 20 and stressed the importance of the NGOs, as well as Egypt's deteriorating economic situation and its request for USD 3.2 billion in support from the International Monetary Fund.

US lawmakers have imposed conditions on assistance to Egypt in 2012, requiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to certify that the military council is supporting the transition to a civilian government.

That includes holding free and fair elections and implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.

Clinton can waive off these conditions if it is in US national security interests, but must notify Congress that she has done so.

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