McCain: Egypt and US 'must remain friends'
Sen. John McCain tried to smooth over tensions with Egypt following the country's decision to prosecute 16 American democracy workers
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McCain, the senior Republican senator from Arizona, was speaking at a business conference in Cairo just before meeting with the country's military leaders, who took power after Mubarak stepped down in the face of a popular uprising.
US-Egypt relations are at their lowest points in decades, strained over the government's crackdown on foreign-funded nonprofit groups working for democracy in Egypt. Egyptian authorities have referred 16 Americans and 27 others who worked for the various groups to a criminal trial expected to begin on Feb. 26. McCain chairs one of the four American groups targeted.
"Egypt is changing. It is true, and as such, the nature of America's partnership with Egypt is also changing," McCain told a room full of US and Egyptian businessmen.
"But ... we must remain the strongest of friends, politically, economically and militarily. We must maintain and strengthen the key pillars of that partnership, especially our commercial and trading relationship and where the people of Egypt and their newly elected government make the right decisions about the policies that will shape their sovereign nation's future," he said. "We must be here to reinforce and support them."
Washington has threatened to cut $1.5 billion in aid over the crackdown on the democracy groups.
Egypt under Mubarak was Washington's closest Arab ally in the Middle East and a loyal partner in the fight against Islamic extremism and terror. Mubarak also kept the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a cornerstone of US foreign policy in the Mideast.
But with the military on the defensive over criticism that it has bungled the transition to democracy and the rise of an Islamist-dominated parliament, Egypt appears to be more ready to publicly challenge the U.S. and Israel, even at the risk of losing critical foreign aid. That stance taps into widespread anti-Israel and anti-US sentiment in Egypt.