By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday he backs continuing the $1.3 billion in annual military aid that Washington sends to Egypt, but that its human rights record makes it "more difficult" to support the Cairo government.
"We give $1.3 billion a year to Egypt. I don't think we should take that away," Ryan said during a meeting with foreign policy reporters at his U.S. Capitol office after a visit to Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.
He said he had raised the rights issue with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The aid package for Cairo has been in focus in Washington because of growing unease among both Ryan's fellow Republicans and Democrats that Sisi's government is exploiting security concerns to crack down on dissent.
Ryan said he told Sisi: "You make it more difficult for us to be supportive of you when you have so many human rights violations," adding that every U.S. official who visited Cairo should make that case.
However, he stressed that it is essential that Washington not allow Egypt to become a failed state.
Ryan also told reporters it was "too soon" to weigh in on an emergency funding "Marshall Plan" that some lawmakers have proposed to boost countries in the region socially and economically rather than only focus on military aspects in the fight to counter Islamic State and other militant groups.
"I think it's too soon to jump to that conclusion," Ryan said, when asked whether he would support some sort of emergency appropriations program like the "Marshall Plan" suggested by fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)