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Washington--A high-level Egyptian delegation seeking debt relief from the United States will hear this week that Washington wants to help but must tend to its own financial struggles, lawmakers warned Tuesday.
Egypt's minister of international cooperation, Fayza Abul Naga, and other top officials were expected to meet with key US lawmakers starting Wednesday with debt relief expected to be a key topic, congressional officials said.
US lawmakers said belt-tightening in Washington will make it hard to forgive some of the $3.3 billion Cairo owes but stressed they hoped to find a way to help Egypt thrive after the ouster of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak.
"You know what the climate is like here: It's very hard. We have to take a look at that and see if there is money," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.
"But I think there's no question but that we would like to help Egypt. Egypt is very important and the United States has a strong national security interest in seeing that Egypt is stable, and people are able to have a form of government which give them certain basic rights," she told AFP.
Democratic Senator Bob Casey, who heads a key subcommittee with a focus on the Middle East, expressed support for a "conversation" about Egypt's aid needs. But, he added: "I'm not sure we're going to come to a firm conclusion."
The minister was due to discuss her concerns with US lawmakers at a briefing arranged by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican.
"Topics of discussion may include recent political and economic developments in Egypt, the ongoing political transition and US assistance programs for Egypt," said her spokesman, Brad Goehner.
A last-minute deal reached Friday to fund the US government to October 1 includes $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt and $250 million in aid to help the country build strong, transparent and democratic institutions.
The measure, which faces a vote in the Senate and House of Representatives late this week, also requires US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report in 45 days on Egypt's progress towards replacing military rule with a democracy.
Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was "doubtful" lawmakers would approve debt relief for Egypt before parliamentary elections in September, the first since Mubarak's fall.
"Most members will say we would like to see the formation of a government, people to bear responsibility for the debt or for the budget of Egypt," he said.
The Egyptian delegation was expected to meet with more key lawmakers on Thursday, according to the specialized publication Congressional Quarterly, which first reported the visit.
"Clearly Egypt is a cornerstone in that part of the world, and our relationship with them is very important," said Senator James Risch, the top Republican on Casey's subcommittee.
"Having said that, we've got our own debt problems here, and I doubt that China's going to forgive any part of our debt, but I'll listen to their arguments."