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US Senators say "disastrous" break in relations with Egypt is possible

After Egyptian officials abruptly canceled a meeting with US government officials, Senators responded with a statement warning of "financial" repercussions.

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 2: Senator John McCain (R-AZ) during a news conference on Capitol Hill February 2, 2012 in Washington, DC to discuss legislation to replace defense spending sequestration.(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images) (Pete Marovich/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A group of US senators have warned that Egypt's crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is threatening the decades of warm relations the two countries have enjoyed.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut authored the press release, which was posted on McCain's website.

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The statement read, "There are committed opponents of the United States and the US-Egypt relationship within the government in Cairo who are exacerbating tensions and inflaming public opinion in order to advance a narrow political agenda." It warned that the risks to the "long-standing" relationship "have rarely been greater," and called for the end to "the harassment and prosecution of the employees of US non-governmental organizations operating in Egypt." The statement noted that Congress-approved support "including financial assistance" was jeopardized by recent moves.

The BBC reported that the statement was released after a group of visiting Egyptian generals abruptly canceled a meeting with the senators as a war of words over the trial of American NGO workers escalated.

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Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told Reuters, "I'm not going to ... say, keep on funding this, funding money that reflects the assumption that they are committed to democracy, if they are not."

"“It is kind of hard to have a normal relationship with the country when we’ve got so many Americans tied up in our embassy,” Sen. Carl Levin told Bloomberg.

Jay Carney, White House spokesman, told Reuters, "Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for several years, and so their activities are not new. Moreover, they also served as observers for the recent parliamentary elections at the request of the government of Egypt."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120208/us-senators-say-disastrous-break-relations-egypt-possible