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World: U.S. House Passes Foreign Aid Bill

Washington, 5 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - No matter what shape the final U.S. foreign aid bill takes before it is signed by President Bill Clinton, the measure is likely to include conditions on aid to Russia and Ukraine and it may include an easing of restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan.

The House of Representatives early today approved a $12.3 billion appropriation for foreign aid and other foreign operations for the financial year starting October First. The vote was 234-191. The U.S. Senate approved its version of foreign aid legislation earlier this Summer. The Senate appropriated $16.8 billion, about $100 million less than Clinton requested in his federal budget request.

Now, the House and Senate must get together on a final version of foreign aid legislation. The Congress will select a committee of Senators and Representatives that will work out the differences between the bills and submit a final text back to both chambers for approval. If it passes, it then goes to Clinton for his signature.

One major difference between the House and Senate versions was the refusal of the House to include $3.5 million that Clinton sought as a one-time contribution to an International Monetary Fund emergency fund.

The other big difference, and one that could cause serious trouble, is an anti-abortion amendment include in the House bill, but not in the Senate version. The amendment would prohibit U.S. economic grants to organizations that practice or promote abortions in foreign countries. Clinton has said he will kill the foreign aid legislation if it comes to him with the abortion clause attached.

Both bills would set aside about $400 million for a variety of economic aid programs in central and eastern Europe and the Baltic states. That is about as much as Clinton wanted.

Both bills would also trim the total amount of aid to the countries of the former Soviet Union. Clinton asked for $900 million. The legislation offers $625 million, with $225 million marked for Ukraine and $85 million for Armenia.

The House version would prohibit aid to Russia unless it rescinds its nuclear cooperation agreement with Iran. But, unlike the Senate bill, the House measure would enable the president to waive the restrictions for half of the aid if he decides it is vital to national security.

The House and Senate would also hold up about half the aid amount for Ukraine until it implements economic reforms aimed at ending corruption.

In addition, the measures would, for the first time in five years, permit U.S. aid to Azerbaijan for specific demoncracy-building programs. Congress banned direct U.S. aid, except for humanitarian relief, to Azerbaijan in 1992 because of its economic blockade of Armenia.

The Administration wants to improve ties with Azerbaijan and has urged Congress to lift the aid ban. The move is opposed by the influential Armenian American political lobby.