Egypt’s chief of intelligence flies to Washington for talks following spat

198.jpgEgypt’s powerful chief of intelligence, who acts as a key diplomatic link with the United States and Israel, flew to Washington on Sunday for talks with administration officials on bilateral ties and Mideast issues, officials said.The visit by Omar Suleiman came amid friction between Egypt and the U.S. because of increasing criticism by the Bush administration and Congress over President Hosni Mubarak’s lack of democratic reforms.

Suleiman did not speak to reporters on departure, but Egyptian officials said he would meet with top officials at the White House, the State Department and the CIA.

“Bolstering bilateral relations will be top on his agenda,” said one official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Relations between the two allies took a dip after the U.S. House of Representatives tabled legislation last month to withhold US$200 million (euro 154 million) in military aid until Cairo takes steps to curb police abuses, reform its judicial system and stop arms smuggling into the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Under the draft, the aid would be withheld from the total of US$1.3 billion (euro940 million) that Egypt is due to receive in military aid from the U.S. in 2008. The legislation has yet to be approved by Congress or signed by President George W. Bush.

Egypt also receives vast U.S. civilian subsidies, and is the second largest recipient of American aid in the world after Israel.

The Egyptian government blasted the proposed U.S. legislation as an “unacceptable” interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.

Last week, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit paid visits to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and warned Washington of the “Egyptian people’s wrath” if it continued meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs.

Bush angered Mubarak’s government and parts of the Egyptian media when he met last month with leading human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and criticized the jailing of opposition leader Ayman Nour.

Ibrahim has been advocating cuts in U.S. military aid as an instrument to press Egypt for democratic reforms.

Nour is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly forging signatures on petitions to register his political party. He challenged Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, finishing a distant second in Egypt’s first contested presidential elections.

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