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East/West: Clinton Denounces 'New American Isolationism'

Washington, 19 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton accused his Republican opponents in Congress of a "new American isolationism" in rejecting their $12.6 billion foreign aid proposal for the 2000 fiscal year.

Clinton had asked for $2.3 billion more than Congress proposed.

He told reporters at the White House on Monday the proposal drafted by members of the Republican Party included no money to fund "our continuing work with the Russians to reduce their nuclear threat." Clinton vetoed the bill and said he wants Congress to approve a spending bill acceptable to him.

The president, a member of the Democratic Party, also accused Congress of limiting his administration's ability to help implement the Middle East peace accords reached last year at Wye Plantation near Washington.

White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart echoed the president's views on isolationism at a briefing for reporters:

"On the broader question of foreign policy, the president, each passing day, gets ample evidence of the dangerous turn toward isolationism within the Republican Party."

A major element of Clinton's foreign aid request was $1.030 billion for all the former Soviet republics. Congress proposed $735 million.

In part, the president proposes spending $241 million on a U.S. State Department program to help find work for former Soviet nuclear weapons scientists in an attempt to make sure they do not sell their services to rogue states trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Despite the difference between Clinton and Congress, a top Republican congressional staff member says Clinton's complaint is exaggerated. Charles Flickner told our correspondent that the congressional proposal does not specify how the money must be spent.

"We are totally silent about the issue. We have done nothing in our bill that would impede him [Clinton] spending the whole amount [on lessening the nuclear threat in the former Soviet republics]."

Lincoln Gordon, a guest scholar on Eastern European studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says the security issue in the former Soviet republics is of paramount importance. He says any reduction in spending on this front would be harmful.

"I think this is really very important because, clearly, Russia is at a crucial point of decision about what its own kind of military program is going to be."

But Gordon stressed that he was not overly concerned about the final figures in the budget. He said they probably will not resemble either the proposals by Clinton or Congress. Gordon described the negotiations as "a game."

"This game -- I can't predict clearly the outcome of the game, but it is a game, and the interim steps in the game -- the veto of individual appropriations bills - still leaves the endgame open."

Both sides seem ready to talk about the rules. When he announced his veto of the foreign aid bill, Clinton said it was time for him to sit down with Congressional leaders. As the president put it, "We have to put politics aside and seek common ground."

Dick Armey (R-Texas), one of the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, seemed open to the idea.

"We ought to talk about that."

Armey said Republicans from Congress will go to the White House today (Tuesday) to meet with Clinton about how they can solve this and other budget problems.

The 2000 fiscal year began Oct. 1, but disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over spending has led to a stalemate. Congress passed a bill to keep the government operating temporarily until an overall budget can be worked out. That measure expires Thursday.