CAIRO — The top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East said Thursday he was “encouraged” about the prospects that three recently raided American organizations would be allowed to reopen, easing a source of tension between Washington and Egypt’s military rulers.
Jeffrey D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said he discussed the Dec. 29 raids with top Egyptian officials during a visit to Cairo in which he stressed the overall importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship.
“I am absolutely convinced — at least from the side of Washington — that we are committed to working through whatever issues may arise between our two countries because the mutual benefits of maintaining a strong partnership are so great,” Feltman said in a news conference Thursday. “We have no more important partner in the Arab World than Egypt,” he said.
Feltman’s visit comes during a time of tension between the United States and its longtime Arab ally after at least 10 pro-democracy civil society organizations, including the three American groups, were raided by Egypt’s security forces as part of a crackdown on dissent ahead of a crucial transition to elected governance.
The ruling military council promised U.S. officials that the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House — all Washington-based democracy-building groups that receive U.S. government funding — would be reopened and their confiscated equipment returned. But the offices remain closed, and Egyptian government officials have publicly defended the raids, vowing that investigations into what they believe is illicit foreign funding would continue.
After meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamal Amr, Feltman said he was heartened by assurances that the civil society organizations were on the path to legalization.
He said he discussed the organizations that “received funding from the United States through our assistance program, and I was encouraged by the process for bringing these nongovernmental organizations into proper registration in Egypt.”
Feltman also met with members of the Arab League, which is headquartered in Cairo, to discuss the continued unrest in Syria and brutal crackdowns by Syrian security forces on protesters.
“We all want to see the violence in Syria come to an end,” he said. “In terms of the United States, though, we are looking for ways that we can contribute to a regional and international effort in order to stop the violence, find ways to permit Syrian civilians to demonstrate peacefully [and] to put pressure on the regime to release prisoners.”
However, he added, “that is separate from the Arab League initiative, which is for the Arabs to talk about.” He referred to an Arab League monitoring mission that was sent to Syria last month to monitor compliance with a plan to end the Syrian government’s crackdown on protests. Syria agreed to the plan Dec. 19, but the violence has continued.