- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — U.S. Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he has expressed strong disapproval to Egypt’s Islamist president about his past comments about Jews. Despite an uproar in Washington over the remarks, he said he and other congressmen will press for more aid to Egypt’s ailing economy.

A congressional delegation led by Mr. McCain met with President Mohammed Morsi a day after the White House strongly denounced his remarks as “deeply offensive.” Mr. Morsi made the comments in a 2010 speech as a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, before he became president, but they resurfaced recently when aired on an Egyptian TV show.

In the video, Mr. Morsi refers to “Zionists” as “bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians” as well as “the descendants of apes and pigs.” He also called U.S. President Obama a liar.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said Mr. Morsi told the delegation Wednesday that the remarks were taken out of context, aimed at criticizing Israeli policies, and not Jews. Mr. Morsi told them distinction must be made between criticism of what he called the “racist” policies of the Israelis against the Palestinians and insults against the Jewish faith.

Mr. Morsi told them the remarks were part of a speech against Israeli aggression in Gaza and “assured them of his respect for monotheistic religions, freedom of belief and the practice of religions.”

Mr. McCain said the delegation voiced its disapproval and had a “constructive discussion” with Mr. Morsi.

“We leave it to the president to make any further comments on this matter that he may wish,” Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, said.

The delegation clearly sought to move beyond the unexpected diplomatic flap to focus on Egypt’s economy. Mr. McCain told reporters the congressional delegation will push for an additional $480 million in budget assistance to Egypt.

All of us are supportive,” he said. “We are working hard to try to see that this money is forthcoming.”

Egypt’s economy has been in a slide since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak two years ago. The unrest has scared away foreign investors and crippled the vital tourism industry, both key foreign currency earners for Egypt.

With less currency coming into its coffers, the country’s foreign reserves have dried up, dropping by more than half, undermining the value of the Egyptian currency, while government deficits have mounted.

Egypt currently is negotiating a $4.8 billion loan with the International Monetary Fund, which is seen as key to helping close the budget gap and, more importantly, as a stamp of approval for investors to return.

The talks were derailed when Mr. Morsi balked at implementing tax increases sought under the package. At the same time, political tension has mounted over the newly adopted constitution and moves by Mr. Morsi that opponents have denounced as a grab of authority.

Mr. McCain dismissed his comments last year calling for U.S. to use aid as leverage to push for democratic progress in Egypt. He called for patience from the U.S., saying that expectations of democratic transition are high from all sides.

“The fact is that the economy of Egypt is in such condition that it requires expeditious aid to be supplied,” he said. “It is hard to have democracy when people are not eating.”S

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