U.S. debt relief plan for Egypt could go to Congress soon

WASHINGTON Fri Sep 7, 2012 4:39pm BST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration hopes to go to Congress soon with a plan for using $1 billion (624.3 million pounds) in debt relief to help Egypt stabilize its economy and expand its private sector, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Friday.

"My hope would be is that we would go to the Congress very shortly with a framework of how we recommend that this money be allocated," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides told reporters during a conference call to discuss goals for a U.S. business delegation headed to Egypt this weekend.

President Barack Obama promised in May 2011 to relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion of the $3.2 billion debt it owes the United States, and to guarantee another $1 billion in loans for infrastructure and job creation programs.

Following Egypt's first free elections, which brought Islamist president Mohamed Mursi to power in June, the United States has started detailed discussions with Egyptian officials on how the money would be used.

"We're still in those discussions. I think we're getting close to finalizing it. Obviously the Congress has to approve what we're doing and we're consulting with both Republicans and Democrats and there's really, quite frankly, bipartisan support for this," Nides said.

The United States is also working very closely with international partners, including the International Monetary Fund, on a broader economic stabilization package, he said.

Mursi's government has requested a $4.8 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund and hopes to wrap up those negotiations by the end of the year. The United States wants a "very strong IMF program" for Egypt, Nides said.

The State Department also is helping the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lead a delegation of more than 45 U.S. companies on a visit to Cairo beginning on Saturday to explore business opportunities in the Arab world's most populous country.

"We're looking forward to hearing the government's plan to encourage private sector development and foreign direct investment in the country and to strengthen the rule of law and restoration of security throughout the country," said Lionel Johnson, the U.S. Chamber's vice president of Turkey, Middle East, and North Africa Affairs .

Johnson said he believed the Mursi government recognized that opening up the private sector was key to boosting Egypt's economic growth, and said U.S. companies would be looking for investment opportunities in areas such as tourism, manufacturing, information technology and financial services.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen and Will Dunham)

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