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NATO: Congress Grapples With Foreign Policy Issues

Washington, 24 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Congress will try to tackle key foreign policy matters before legislators take a spring recess early next month, but domestic business is threatening to hold things up.

Among the unresolved issues are Senate approval of NATO's expansion, funding for the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and paying the cost of the military buildup in the Persian Gulf and peacekeeping in Bosnia.

Says Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.): "Right now, it's a tangled mass."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) told reporters Monday the Senate is unlikely to vote on NATO expansion before the two-week recess that begins April 6.

Lott blames the opposition Democrats for the holdup. The Republican senator says it now looks like the Senate vote on extending NATO membership to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic won't come up until the end of April.

The three former Warsaw Pact nations were approved for entry to NATO last December. They cannot be admitted into the alliance until the parliaments of all current NATO members ratify the move. The NATO resolution requires approval by two-thirds, or 67 votes, in the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives is not required to vote on the measure.

Legislation appropriating money to cover past U.S. membership dues in the United Nations is also in political trouble.

Democrats in the House of Representatives are opposed to an anti-abortion amendment attached to the bill. It would prohibit the use of U.S. taxpayers' money to fund abortions abroad as part of a U.N. program on family planning. It would also ban funding for any organization that performs or advocates abortion.

The United States owes more than 1,000 million dollars to the U.N. The House bill would allocate 921 million dollars. U.N. officials have said unless the U.S. makes a substantial payment, it could lose its vote in the U.N. General Assembly.

President Bill Clinton has threatened to veto a bill that has an anti-abortion amendment attached to it.

Congress is also fighting over legislation that would extend 18,000 million dollars to the IMF, the multinational financial agency that loans money to such countries as Russia, Ukraine and Indonesia.

Lott says it's important for Congress to "take steps to try to protect American taxpayers' dollars" used by the IMF. He expressed concern that some of the money might be going "for bad loans" or used for "cronyism."

Both Senate and House committees are trying to set conditions aimed at reforming IMF operations. U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has criticized the proposals as "unworkable."

Lott says the IMF funding issue will be on the agenda for next week.

President Clinton has asked Congress to approve 1,800 million dollars for peacekeepers in Bosnia and the recent military buildup in the Persian Gulf. Republican leaders in Congress have decided to combine the military funding with money to cover disasters in the U.S. such as floods.

Lott says the administration "purposely under funds," U.S. Defense Department allocations for Bosnia and the Persian Gulf. He says there is "a very strong desire" by both the Senate and the House to provide the necessary funds.