US says no decision yet on unblocking Egypt aid

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States (US) administration is closely watching the results of Egypt's referendum, but has not yet decided whether to unfreeze some US$1.5 billion (S$1.9 billion) in aid to its military-installed leaders, a US official said on Thursday.

A broad federal spending bill, which has passed the House of Representatives but is still being debated in the Senate, authorises Washington to send a first tranche of US$975 million to Egypt.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry first has to certify that the current leaders have held a constitutional referendum and are taking steps to support a democratic transition.

A further US$576 million in aid would flow if and when Egypt holds parliamentary and presidential elections and Kerry certifies the new government is governing democratically.

While draft spending bill for the fiscal year 2014 "provides the administration with some additional flexibility... it does not indicate a decision has been made," said State Department spokesman Jen Psaki.

Washington suspended its aid - most of which is military funding - to Cairo in October, angered that, since the army's overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi in July, there had been little indication of a return to democracy.

"There are a range of factors we look to," Ms Psaki told reporters, saying merely holding the constitutional referendum this week was not enough.

"It's also important for the interim government to foster a positive environment for civil society, to protect the rights of political activists and groups, to peacefully respect their views on the country's future," she said.

Preliminary tallies reported by Egyptian state media suggested more than 90 per cent of votes cast had been in support of the new charter, with a 39 per cent turnout in most provinces in the two days of polling.

Official results are expected by Saturday.

Ms Psaki said Washington was watching closely as the results were being tallied and was awaiting the official announcement.

"That being said, we remain deeply concerned by reports of politically motivated arrests and detentions of political activists, peaceful demonstrators and journalists in Egypt," she said.

"We continue to call on the government to ensure respect for human rights and to permit an atmosphere for all Egyptians to demonstrate their universal rights and freedom," Ms Psaki added.

"The Egyptian government has an opportunity - important opportunity - to make the most of this political transition, and we urge them to take advantage of it for the benefit of all."