U.S., U.K. consider freezing Egyptian assets

/ Source: The Associated Press

A senior U.S. official says the Obama administration is examining requests from Egypt's new government to freeze the assets of top aides to ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The official told reporters at the State Department on Monday that the administration had received requests regarding some senior officials in Mubarak's regime but not the former president himself.

The official said the Treasury Department is looking at them and will make a decision in the coming days. The official did not identify the individuals whose U.S. assets were being studied and spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The official's comments came after Britain's foreign secretary said the European Union will discuss a request from Egypt's military rulers to freeze assets held by members of Mubarak's regime.

William Hague told the House of Commons on Monday that Egypt's new leaders had requested that the U.K. and others take action against several ex-officials, but did not specify whether they included Mubarak himself.

Hague said European Union finance ministers would discuss the request later Monday and on Tuesday during their talks in Brussels.

"If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action," Hague said.

To impose an asset freeze on an outgoing leader, the EU needs the backing of all 27 member states and usually coordinates its actions with the incoming government.

Last week, the bloc announced a freeze on the assets of 48 ex-Tunisian officials, including former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali and his wife.

Hague, who last week carried out a three-day, five country tour of the Middle East and northern Africa — but did not visit Egypt — said he spoke Sunday with Egypt's Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

He told lawmakers he had called on Egypt's military government to quickly set out a timetable for parliamentary and presidential elections.

"It is in our national interest as well as theirs for them to make a successful transition to a broad-based government and an open and democratic society," Hague said.

He said he also urged the immediate release of protesters, journalists and human rights campaigners detained during protests which led to Mubarak's ouster.

"In Egypt, as in Tunisia, there is now a precious moment of opportunity for the people of Egypt to achieve a stable and democratic future," Hague said.

Hague also expressed his concern that unrest in the Middle East could further stall progress of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He said both sides must show "the visionary boldness to return to talks and make genuine compromises."

He also warned that political upheaval in the region should not distract world powers from the task of curbing Iran's ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

Britain and allies are discussing "steps to increase the legitimate peaceful pressure" on Tehran to comply with U.N. demands to open up its secretive nuclear program, he said.