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Yugoslavia: U.S. Congressmen Urge Withholding Aid

  • Kevin Foley

President George W. Bush is facing increasing pressure from the Congress to deny U.S. economic aid to Yugoslavia until the government in Belgrade improves cooperation with international jurists seeking to prosecute some former Serb leaders, including Slobodan Milosevic, on war crimes charges. Our Washington correspondent K.P. Foley reports on the debate.

Washington, 29 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- President George W. Bush has until 31 March to decide whether Yugoslavia should continue receiving U.S. economic assistance but he is facing increasing pressure from Congress to deny the government in Belgrade more funds for anything except humanitarian relief.

The congressmen opposed to continued aid say Yugoslavia has not gone far enough to meet eligibility requirements imposed by the U.S. last year. Those requirements include assistance in the international effort to prosecute alleged Serbian war criminals, among them the indicted former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

One of the opponents, Benjamin Cardin, a member of the House of Representatives from the eastern state of Maryland, told RFE/RL that Bush should know that there is widespread disappointment with the government of President Vojislav Kostunica.

"There's a large number of members of Congress who believe that more progress should have been made by now."

At stake is more than $50 million in direct economic aid, and U.S. support for multilateral assistance for Yugoslavia from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In order for the aid and support to continue beyond 31 March, Bush must certify to the Congress that Yugoslavia has met three conditions set by Congress and approved by former President Bill Clinton in November.

Those conditions are: that Yugoslavia is, "cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia." The cooperation includes, "access for investigators, the provision of documents, and the surrender and transfer of indictees or assistance in their apprehension."

Second, Bush must certify that Yugoslavia is taking steps consistent with an international mandate, "to end Serbian financial, political, security and other support which has served to maintain separate Republika Srpska institutions."

Finally, Bush must tell Congress that Yugoslavia "is taking steps to implement policies which reflect a respect for minority rights and the rule of law."

At the White House, a spokesman declined to predict the president's decision. The State Department, which will make the formal announcement, said only that the decision will be taken by the 31 March deadline. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said 28 March that the U.S. has repeatedly made clear to Yugoslavia the measures that it must take.

Cardin said Yugoslavia has made some progress in meeting the conditions, but not enough, and he called on Belgrade to hand over Milosevic to the tribunal to answer to war crimes charges.

"I think the government must make more progress in regards to cooperation with the war crimes tribunal. It's now time for Mr. Milosevic to be brought to justice. He's indicted. He needs to be taken to The Hague and it's time to move forward to end this chapter in Serbia's history."

Cardin is one of three human rights activists in the House who sent Bush a letter this week urging him to withhold U.S. aid and multilateral support until Yugoslavia makes more progress. He was joined by Congressman Christopher Smith (Republican from New Jersey), the co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and former commission Chairman Steny Hoyer (Democrat from Maryland). Cardin is also a Democrat and a commission member.

There are 435 members of the House, but Smith, Hoyer, and Hardin are among the leaders on foreign policy issues. Besides co-chairing the Helsinki Commission, Smith chairs the International Relations Committee's subcommittee on foreign aid. Hoyer is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, the group that oversees foreign aid spending.

Their concerns were echoed by four senators who have significant influence on foreign policy. The chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Senate's Appropriations Committee -- Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican from the southern state of Kentucky, and the subcommittee's senior Democrat, Patrick Leahy of the northeastern state of Vermont -- wrote Secretary of State Colin Powell urging him to advise the president against certification.

The senators said there have been some positive developments but they said that overall, Yugoslavia has failed to meet the conditions set down last November.

McConnell and Leahy said that, "any accommodation of this failure would be contrary to the law and U.S. national interests."

Two of the Senate's most outspoken critics of what they consider Yugoslav inaction also went on record again with their opposition to continued aid. Senator Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. must hold to a firm line with Yugoslavia and insist on the extradition of Milosevic.

Senator Gordon Smith (Republican from Oregon), the chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on European Affairs, said approval of continued aid will, in his words, reward the status quo and provide no incentive for reform.

However, there is some support in Congress for continued assistance. Senator George Voinovich, a Republican from the Midwestern state of Ohio who is also of Serbian ancestry, wrote Bush urging continued aid.

Voinovich said he believes, "President Kostunica and the new government in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have complied with the spirit of the law." He conceded that, "much still needs to be done," in cooperation with the tribunal, but he said that "significant steps have been taken in that area."

Congressman Cardin refused to speculate on what the president's decision might be, but he said he is certain that strong arguments both for and against certification are being weighed.

"They're somewhat conflicted. They obviously want to encourage the continuation of democratic principles in Serbia. They want to continue encouraging the progress that has been made but on the other hand they realize not enough has been done in regards to the human rights issues and so I think there is at least some conflict within the State Department."

The "Congressional Quarterly Weekly," a magazine considered an authoritative source of inside information in Congress, reported this week that key congressional aides expect the administration to certify Belgrade for continued assistance, either by certifying cooperation with the tribunal in spite of shortcomings or by giving assurances that there will be a more thorough scrutiny of Belgrade in the future.