By Susan Cornwell and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to allow some U.S. military assistance to Egypt to go forward despite its failure to meet pro-democracy conditions, a Democratic senator said on Thursday, while sharply criticizing the move.
The office of Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on foreign aid, announced the decision and made clear his deep unhappiness with it, arguing Clinton should now limit the amount of military aid that is released.
Clinton should "release no more taxpayer funds than is demonstrably necessary, withholding the rest in the (U.S.) Treasury pending further progress in the transition to democracy" in Egypt, Leahy said in a statement.
Congress has approved $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt -- the same level the country has received for years -- for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept 30. Congress also approved $250 million in economic aid and up to $60 million for an "enterprise fund."
U.S. law requires the secretary of state to certify that Egypt is meeting its obligations under its peace treaty with Israel to receive any of the U.S. assistance, and Clinton made this certification, Leahy's office said.
But for the U.S. military aid to flow, the law also requires Clinton to certify that the Egyptian government is supporting a transition to civilian government, including holding free and fair elections, and implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion and due process of law. These conditions, added to the law this year, were authored by Leahy.
Clinton used a provision in the law that allowed her to waive those conditions on national security grounds, Leahy said, adding that this sent the wrong signal to the Egyptian military, which has ruled the country since last year's ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak following a popular uprising.
"The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy," Leahy said in a statement. "They should end trials of civilians in military courts and fully repeal the Emergency Law, and our policy should not equivocate on these key reforms."
U.S. officials have warned the generals running Egypt that the country's recent crackdown on pro-democracy groups jeopardized continued U.S. military aid.
Egyptian authorities accused U.S., Egyptian and other pro-democracy campaigners, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of working for groups receiving illegal foreign funding, and initially prevented some of the Americans from leaving the country.
Most of the U.S. pro-democracy activists flew out of Egypt on March 1 after Egyptian authorities lifted a travel ban.
A waiver by Clinton does not mean any money actually has been released to Egypt, congressional aides said.
The law requires the secretary of state to send a justification for the decision to Congress, and consult with lawmakers before any of the money is placed in an account for Egypt, the congressional aides said.
(Reporting By Susan Cornwell and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Vicki Allen and Lisa Shumaker)