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U.S.: Foreign Aid Bill Advances In Congress

Washington, 4 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Both chambers of the U.S. Congress have approved legislation appropriating billions of dollars for foreign economic assistance, but it will still be several weeks before any country, including the nations of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, learns how much aid the U.S. will provide next year.

The House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that sets aside $12.6 billion for all U.S. foreign operations, including economic, military and humanitarian aid. The Senate passed its version of the foreign aid measure on June 30.

The House and Senate now must come to a compromise agreement on a final sum for the foreign operations measure. The compromise legislation will then be sent back to each chamber for another vote before the bill can be sent to President Bill Clinton for his signature.

None of this is likely to happen until sometime next month. The entire Congress plans to recess for its summer holiday at the end of this week, returning on September 7.

The House and Senate will then have until September 30, the end of the current financial year, to come to agreement on 13 separate pieces of legislation -- including the foreign operations measure -- that provide the funds for the entire U.S. government budget. If Congress misses the deadline, it will have to make an emergency appropriation to provide continued funding for government programs.

There are major differences between the House and Senate versions of the foreign aid legislation, and the White House has already warned that President Clinton would veto the final legislation if it looks like the House version because it cuts too much money from his foreign operations request.

Overall, the House bill would cut President Clinton's aid request by $1.9 billion for the fiscal year that begins October 1. The bill provides $7.4 billion for economic aid, $3.6 billion for military assistance, $1.1 billion for international agencies and $595.5 million for export assistance.

The House version offers $393 million for economic assistance programs for Central and Eastern Europe, the same amount the president asked for, but $92 million less than the amount approved by the Senate. The Senate measure approved funds for a security force for the Serbian province of Kosovo, money that the president did not ask for.

In the House version, $725 million would be set aside for the republics of the former Soviet Union. That is $307 million less than the president's request, but the same as the amount the Senate would appropriate.

The House version does not set specific amounts for individual states in the former Soviet Union, leaving those decisions to the compromise budget to be worked out with the Senate. It is expected, however, that the final version of foreign aid for the former Soviet Union will resemble the Senate legislation.

That measure sets aside $210 million for Ukraine, $95 million for Georgia and $90 million for Armenia. Both House and Senate versions keep in place a ban on direct U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan because of its economic blockade against Armenia. The White House wants the ban repealed.

The House and the Senate have each approved a separate piece of legislation that calls for increasing economic assistance to the Central Asian and south Caucasus states by using funds from existing programs for other former Soviet states and from Central and Eastern European projects.

The legislation aims to develop economic cooperation, to promote U.S. business interests and to resolve regional conflicts in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The legislation was titled the "Silk Road Strategy Act," because those nations line the historic "Silk Road" trade route.

In both the House and Senate foreign aid bills, economic aid to Ukraine will no longer be linked to proof by the Ukrainian government that it is curbing alleged economic corruption, particularly corruption that harms American business interests. In a report accompanying the House bill, members noted the aid condition was dropped "in the face of the continuing dismal political and economic situation in Ukraine."

The House bill also sets aside $2.88 billion for Israel, $2 billion for Egypt, and 325 million for Jordan.

The White House has said cuts proposed by both the House and Senate would harm a wide range of foreign policy efforts, hurting the poorest countries and diminishing the ability to respond to foreign crises, to prevent nuclear smuggling, to deal with the Asian crisis, to expand the Peace Corps and to help refugees.