US House Majority Leader Cantor: America should not cut aid to Egypt

Republican leader says Egypt "strategically important" to US.

Eric Cantor 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Eric Cantor 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Now is not the time for the US to cut off military assistance to Egypt, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.
Cantor, heading a 28-member Republican congressional delegation on a one-week trip to Israel that concluded on Saturday night, said that US military assistance to Egypt was “obviously strategically important for a number of reasons.”
Cantor’s words came amid increased calls in the US to reevaluate its $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt, of which $1.3b. is in military assistance, in light of the spiraling violence there.
He was careful, however, not to criticize US President Barack Obama’s decision on Thursday to call off Operation Bright Star, a joint US-Egyptian biennial military exercise that was scheduled to take place next month in the Sinai.
“It is the commander-in-chief’s prerogative to make that decision,” he said, adding that he had not heard Obama’s reasoning for the move.
Cantor said that the goal of US policy toward Egypt – a country he characterized as strategically important for the US – should be urging Egypt and its government into “a more open and inclusive political system which includes the ability to stand up for individual and minority rights and foster that type of political environment.”
Terming the situation in Egypt “troubling and complex,” Cantor said that deposed president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood mismanaged the government and its economy, and “diverted democracy, oppressed minorities and denied their rights, and certainly shut the opposition out.”
Cantor and the Republican delegation met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday, and with PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat the day before. Even with the car bombing in Lebanon on Thursday, the violence in Egypt, the turmoil in Syria and the restart of talks with the Palestinians, Cantor said he walked away from his meeting with Netanyahu believing that Iran still remained the most pressing issue on the prime minister’s mind.
“Iran was the first, second, third, fourth and fifth thing on his mind,” Cantor said.
Regarding the talks with the Palestinians, Cantor said that following the delegation’s Thursday meeting with Erekat he did not “see any evidence of a Palestinian willingness to recognize a legitimate Jewish presence in a state here.”
Until that happens, he added, “How do you even go and negotiate anything? My takeaway is that it is not the settlements, not some suburb of Jerusalem, that is the problem; it is the willingness – or unwillingness – of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish presence and a Jewish state in this region.”
Cantor said that he expressed his concerns at home about the timing of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s push for negotiations now at a time of turmoil in the region. But if the decision was made to go forward with the peace talks, he said, the priority needed to be Israel’s security.
The delegation also met Thursday with Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador-designate to the US, and asked whether Netanyahu’s recent decision to release 104 Palestinians in order to restart the talks was a result of US pressure.
Dermer, according to an official at the meeting, said that the decision was not the result of US pressure, but rather because Netanyahu felt that the negotiations were critical now because of the challenges being posed by Iran and the dramatically changing situations in Syria and Egypt.