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U.S.: Rubin Says First Line Of Defense At Risk

The U.S. Congress on Wednesday sent a foreign aid bill to President Bill Clinton that the administration says will seriously shortchange vital international programs. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams reports that State Department officials had been particularly critical of the bill in the days leading up to the vote and were equally outspoken in the wake of its passage.

Washington, 7 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin says America's first line of defense -- diplomacy -- has been put at risk, following congressional failure to provide what he called "adequate funding" for U.S. foreign policy programs.

The bill, while providing some $12.6 billion in aid for foreign operations in fiscal year 2000, falls some $2 billion short of the amount U.S. President Bill Clinton requested. He has already said he will veto it.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright earlier warned Congressional budget negotiators that reducing the funds could seriously damage U.S. diplomacy.

At the State Department briefing on Wednesday, Rubin reiterated that concern, saying the foreign aid bill -- as it stands now -- would cut across virtually every program of U.S. foreign assistance.

Although the bill would provide Israel and Egypt with nearly all of their annual $5 billion in military and economic aid, Rubin said it does NOT provide an extra $805 million promised to help implement the Wye River Peace Accord.

Rubin said the funding is essential to support what he said was the renewed dedication of the Israelis and Palestinians in implementing Wye and achieving a permanent status agreement over the next year.

Rubin told RFE/RL the bill also cuts funding for the former Soviet Union, mostly aimed at reducing the threat of nuclear missile proliferation.

"In the area of Russia and the Newly Independent States, the expanded threat reduction initiative is also being cut. We think this is extremely important to protect our nation from the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction. And the bill effectively provides no resources to continue this initiative and reduces our ability to prevent international security threats that may emerge from the former Soviet Union."

The U.S. administration is also reported unhappy that the legislation eliminates $241 million for a State Department program to help find work for former Soviet nuclear weapons scientists.

Rubin said peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Croatia are also at risk, following a 41 percent cut in overall aid for peacekeeping. According to first reports, some funds were allocated to help rebuild Kosovo, but they reportedly do NOT include money for regional peacekeeping operations and would NOT be released unless the U.S. contribution was less than 15 percent of total aid.

A senior U.S. official later told RFE/RL the present state of affairs comes as "no surprise" and that the real heat of concern comes in about a month, if Clinton vetoes the bill and sends it back to Congress.

Republican leaders say the cuts are needed to meet strict budget caps and they have accused the Administration of seeking to take money from the surplus in Social Security accounts to pay for more foreign aid.

Rubin rejects the notion, saying they are but another example of the U.S. Congress refusing to provide the tools necessary to perform international diplomacy.

Exhibiting a level of frustration rare to the world of diplomacy, Rubin said the Congress should also then be held responsible for what he said will be the resulting inability of America to affect crises around the world.

"It's another example of Congress refusing to provide us the tools that we need to be performing the diplomacy that they legitimately expect us to perform. Diplomacy is the first line of defense, and time and time again members of Congress have asked the question of why we didn't do something earlier or why we didn't do more or why we didn't solve some problem quicker, or where we made this mistake and that. With the funds that they're giving us, we won't be able to act at all in many parts of the world."

Meanwhile, some analysts have suggested that a presidential veto would allow the Republicans to portray the White House as giving preference to international issues over domestic ones. All highlighting that events Wednesday are just the beginning of the foreign aid fight amid this, an election year.