Cablegate: Request for Guidance On Goe Economic Assistance


DE RUEHEG #1727/01 2461602
O 031602Z SEP 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 001727



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/03/2019

REF: CAIRO 1725Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1.(SBU) This is an action message. See para.

2. (C) Reftel describes the most recent GOE proposal for the ESF program, both in terms of levels beyond 2010 and an ambitious endowment mechanism that would essentially replace USAID. While the Egyptians heartily support redirecting ESF toward the areas of cooperation outlined by President Obama in his June 4 speech in Cairo, their proposal goes far beyond the amounts and mechanisms that Mission believes are supportable in Washington. Ambassador and Mission Director will begin efforts to move the Egyptians toward more realistic goals but require formal Department guidance on USG positions.

3. (SBU) Action Requested: Following are those areas that need clear and immediate guidance from the Department. ESF Funding Levels ------------------

4. (SBU) The GOE is proposing $350 million in ESF for FY 2011 and a USG agreement that ESF would decline by $35 million a year until phased out entirely by 2021. Total ESF amount would be about $1.9 billion over 10 years.

5. (C) Mission Recommendation: -- USG should convey its intention to request $250 million for ESF for 2011, with no discussion at this stage for a phase out of the ESF program. The USG should convey its intent (no guarantee) to seek assistance at this level for the next five years, assuming that the U.S. and Egypt can work out a mutually acceptable agreement on how these funds would be spent. The USG view is that the bulk of these funds be focused on the array of educational and other goals outlined by President Obama in his June 4 speech in Cairo.

6. (C) Rationale: -- Egypt continues to face significant social and economic challenges that justify a continuation of economic assistance. "Trade not Aid" remains a key element in a long-term strategy, but short and medium-term conditions argue for continuing an assistance program. -- The bilateral relationship should not be defined solely by military assistance and trade. The USG needs to continue to demonstrate concern for the average Egyptian and assure that significant amounts of ESF benefit Egyptian society in general. -- The Egypt ESF program historically has been characterized by significant backlogs of appropriated funds in "pipelines" that have contained $100s of millions of dollars. $250 million is a more realistic funding level for Egyptian capacity to implement programs. We should argue strongly to the GOE that neither the Administration nor Congress sees any advantage to seeing funds stack up against projects that may not be fully implemented for years. -- The eventual political transition in Egypt poses a number of unknown questions; maintaining a viable ESF program for Egypt provides the greatest flexibility for the future. The "Endowment" ---------------

7. (SBU) The GOE proposes that all future ESF assistance and "redirected" Egyptian ESF debt repayments be placed in a bi-national endowment that at completion would accrue $3.6 billion in U.S. contributions ($1.9 billion in ESF and $1.7 billion in "redirected ESF debt repayments). Egyptian thinking on the uses, control, and drawdown of this endowment go far beyond USG and Mission thinking and USG precedent.

8. (C) Mission Recommendation: -- The USG should provide a clear, unequivocal statement that our thinking on an endowment has been along the lines used elsewhere, i.e. a relatively modest, NGO-run operation with limited purposes, and that might serve as a "legacy" vehicle for such time as an ESF program for Egypt is deemed no longer necessary or valuable. -- Mission would propose that a non-governmental "endowment" be launched with $25-50 million a year in appropriated ESF funds, with some matching GOE funds, and possible participation from the private sector. Examples of what the endowment could be used for would include: scholarships, science/technology grants, grants for archeological conservation and joint US-Egyptian archeological projects. This endowment would need to fulfill all accounting and oversight requirements that normally accompany U.S. assistance grants.

9. (C) Rationale: -- Congress would never support the establishment of a massive fund of appropriated dollars that would operate beyond the normal oversight and control of current US regulations relating to development assistance. This is just a non-starter. -- Egypt needs assistance now. Stockpiling cash in an endowment that uses only the proceeds of investment would deprive the Egyptian people of the current benefit of US assistance and be dribbled out at an unacceptably slow rate. -- An "endowment" strategy should start small and build a reputation for efficiency and hitting the mark in terms of meeting the intent of the endowment. A successfully run endowment would be the best possible formula for justifying continuing USG/Congressional support. -- The U.S. believes that there continues to be a need for ongoing USAID projects in Egypt developed and implemented with a range of GOE ministries and NGOs. Such projects could not be run out of an "endowment" with no track record and, if attempted, would likely result in massive new spending on overhead. Debt ----

10. (SBU) The GOE proposes directing Egyptian ESF debt repayments (approximately $150 million a year for a total of $1.7 billion) into the endowment.

11.(C) Mission Recommendation: -- Mission recommends a clear refusal to consider adjusting GOE debt to the USG in any manner.

12. (C) Rationale: -- While the GOE views both economic assistance and debt relief as similar issues, the USG does not. -- The most current GOE proposal is tantamount to increasing overall non military assistance to Egypt to $500 million a year for FY 2011 ($350 million ESF; $150 million debt). -- The USG has never agreed with the GOE assertion that there is an obligation that debt repayment not exceed ESF levels. In any case, the USG forgave over $12 billion in debt in 1990-91--clearly done as a once and only gesture to our great friendship with Egypt. And overall US assistance exceeds $1.5 billion a year. -- Other complex debt swapping and buy-back schemes proposed by Egypt in the past either contradict Paris Club requirements and/or make no sense financially for Egypt. Use of FY 2009 Funds --------------------

13. (SBU) During ongoing discussions between USAID and the the MIC over programming 2009 and 2010 funds, MIC has conveyed its intent to use all $40 million in FY 2009 ESF resources identified to support post-Cairo speech activities (see reftel) for Egyptians to obtain advanced degrees in the U.S. The GOE has already formed a committee to select candidates.

14. (C) Mission Position: -- The Mission supports a significant use of this funding for scholarships but also is insisting that some of the funds should be used to expand and initiate other educational activities such as model science and technology high schools, an agricultural technology school, and expanding an English language program for secondary students. -- We will continue to insist on the same level of oversight and control of current ESF-funded education programs.

15. (C) Rationale: -- The GOE has often failed to consider gender equality and financial need in its selection process.

16. (C) Post will appreciate Department's guidance as soon as possible on these issues so that we can advance our consultations with the GOE on future funding and use of ESF. Scobey

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