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Some US aid to Egypt could with withheld

Egyopt aid could be cutUS officials are discussing whether to withhold a portion of US assistance to Egypt to protest Egyptian passage of a law imposing restrictions on non-governmental organisations, a senior administration official said.

Officials have not reached agreement on whether to proceed with a recommendation to President Donald Trump and his senior leadership, but there is a feeling some action is necessary in reaction to the move by Egypt, the official told Reuters.

US aid to Egypt has long been sacrosanct. Egypt is one of Washington's closest allies in the Middle East, receiving $1.3 billion in US military aid and about $200 million in economic assistance annually.

"We told them over and over again don't do this, that they are putting US aid at risk, but they did it anyway," the official said. "We're figuring out how to respond."

The discussions involve cutting a portion of American aid, not all of it, the official said.

The Egyptian law restricts NGO activity to developmental and social work and introduces jail terms of up to give years for non-compliance.

Egyptian lawmakers said the law was necessary to protect national security. Government has long accused human rights groups of taking foreign funds to spread chaos and several face investigation over funding.

In May, when the law was issued after being ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, US senators criticised it. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called it “draconian legislation” and said the US Congress should “strengthen democratic benchmarks and human rights conditions on US assistance for Egypt.”

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and nine other senators sent Trump a letter on June 19 urging the president to press Sisi on the issue.

"The US Congress will take the Egyptian government’s recent actions into consideration as we review bilateral assistance to Egypt to ensure the American people’s tax dollars are used appropriately," the letter said.

Former President Barack Obama froze aid to Egypt for two years after Sisi, then a general, overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in mid-2013 after mass protests against Mursi's rule.

Trump is intent on rebooting the relationship with Sisi and building on the strong connection the two presidents established when they first met in New York last September.

Trump gave Sisi firm backing and vowed to work together to fight Islamist militants when Sisi visited the White House in April.