Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tom Lantos slams Egypt - in Egypt

US congressman Lantos criticizes Egypt on Palestinian weapons smuggling:

"CAIRO (AFP) - United States Congressman Tom Lantos accused Egypt of not doing enough to halt the smuggling of weapons by Palestinian militants across the Egyptian border.

'I do not believe that the Egyptian government has done enough historically,' Lantos, the high-ranking Democratic Party member on the House International Relations Committee, told a news conference in Cairo.

Israel has repeatedly accused the Palestinians of using tunnels dug under the Rafah border crossing to smuggle weapons from Egypt for attacks against Israel.

'I believe Egypt has the capacity to shut down these tunnels,' said Lantos but added: 'I am totally opposed to terrorists obtaining weapons whether through tunnels or through some other means.'

Lantos held a series of meetings in Egypt with the Egyptian leadership, including President Hosni Mubarak, intelligence chief General Omar Suleiman, presidential advisor Osama al-Baz and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

He said much of the discussions 'related to our joint efforts...to terminate this murderous activity through the tunnels at the Gaza border'.

He added: 'I am strongly and irrevocably opposed to arming terrorists,' referring to Palestinian militant groups.

Lantos' visit to Egypt coincided with a harsh campaign against him in the semi-official press that accused him of being unfriendly and biased towards Egypt.

The press took particular issue with the congressman's recent proposal for a reduction in US military aid to Egypt, 'which represents only less than half of what Israel gets', according to an editorial in the semi-official al-Akhbar daily that described Lantos as being 'shameless.'

Lantos had proposed directing some of the military assistance Egypt receives annually from the US for economic and other purposes.

'The world is changing, the demands and requirements of Egyptian society are changing,' he argued. 'It is clearly in the interests of the people of Egypt, whose prime needs at the moment are in the educational and medical fields and not in additional high-tech weaponary,' Lantos added.

The US Congressman's visit to Egypt was the second leg of a regional tour. He arrived in Egypt Monday from Libya and was scheduled to travel to Syria, Jordan and Israel.