WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration plans to nominate its ambassador in Iraq to be the new U.S. envoy in Cairo, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, as U.S.-Egyptian ties remain strained following the Egyptian army's ouster of an elected president last year. Robert Stephen Beecroft, a longtime diplomat who has been U.S. ambassador in Baghdad since 2012, would replace Anne Patterson, who left the Cairo post last year and is now serving as a senior official on Middle East issues in Washington. It is not clear when Beecroft would be formally nominated, the officials said on condition of anonymity. U.S. ambassador positions must be confirmed by the Senate. If nominated and confirmed, Beecroft would be the face of U.S. policy in Cairo at a fraught moment in U.S.-Egyptian ties. U.S. officials have repeatedly criticized the military-backed interim government for harsh treatment of opponents, particularly those linked to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, and for allowing courts to hand down death sentences for hundreds of opponents. But the Obama administration moved last week to expand some military assistance for Egypt and to provide Apache attack helicopters to help Egyptian soldiers battle a burgeoning militancy in the Sinai peninsula. U.S. officials continue to withhold other assistance and military hardware, saying they will provide the aid only when Egypt proves it is governing in a truly democratic fashion. Egyptians are scheduled to select a new president later this month in elections that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former military leader who toppled former President Mohamed Mursi last year, is expected to win. The Obama administration had been expected to nominate Robert Ford, who served as the lead U.S. diplomat on the crisis in Syria, for the Cairo position, but U.S. officials said that the Egyptian government signaled they saw Ford as too close to Islamist parties in the Middle East. (Reporting By Lesley Wroughton and Missy Ryan; Editing by Diane Craft)
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