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U.S.: Albright Lays Out Foreign Affairs Budget Battle

The U.S. State Department is asking for nearly $23 billion to help the newly-independent states (NIS) of the former Soviet Union, Russia, Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltics, in the fiscal year 2001 budget request President Bill Clinton submitted to Congress Monday. RFE/RL's State Department Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports it is a budget that seeks to allow the United States to enter the 21st Century strong, prosperous, respected and at peace.

Washington, 8 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says money spent on foreign aid programs is "good value" for America and the world.

Briefing reporters yesterday about the portion of President Bill Clinton's fiscal year 2001 budget request that is dedicated to foreign affairs programs, Albright said diplomacy stands at the forefront:

"Diplomacy is the United State's first line of defense. When we succeed, we make it less likely that our Armed Forces will be called upon to fight, more likely that our workers and businesses will benefit from open markets, less likely that our citizens will be harmed by international terror, and more likely that our children will grow up in a world that is peaceful and prosperous, healthy and free."

Clinton's proposal seeks $830 million for a variety of assistance programs for the newly-independent states of the former Soviet Union (NIS) and $610 million to fund programs for Central and Eastern Europe -- from the Balkans to the Baltics.

Albright said the U.S. is requesting substantial resources for what she called three "key" transitional democracies -- Nigeria, Indonesia, and Ukraine. "Securing and strengthening democracy around the world is not just a question of good civics or high-minded values, Albright noted, she said it is also a "strategic imperative."

To this end, she said Ukraine plays a key role:

"The reason that we have focused on Ukraine is that it is very important in terms of its geographical location and generally in terms of the stability of that region. We have noted a lot of progress in Ukraine and their recent elections that we think went in the right direction. But obviously, the reason that we are putting money into Ukraine is because we think that it's still fragile and that the reform movements have to go forward, and that President (Leonid) Kuchma and his government have to work very carefully to make sure that the reform process, both in terms of the economic issues, as well as democracy and civil-society issues, are able to go forward."

In the same part of the world, Albright said the U.S. is requesting renewed support for the president's expanded threat reduction initiative (ERTI) to address the security implications of the economic crisis that adversely affected Russia and other NIS countries.

Albright further said that the risks posed by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have remained significant and that some funds would go toward safeguarding the handling of advanced weapons materials and expertise in the former Soviet Union.

A final part of the $830 million earmarked for the NIS would support regional cooperation for economic reform and development and conflict resolution in the Caucasus.

Turning now to Central and Eastern Europe, where the largest single assistance to support democracy and a market economy is earmarked for Kosovo. The SEED fund, which stands for support for East European democracies, includes $175 million for stabilization and revitalization in Kosovo. The money would go to direct reform of judicial institutions, law enforcement, and economic and regulatory branches of the government. Funds also would be used for technical assistance and credit programs to stimulate agri-business and other small to medium-sized ventures.

Funding requests for the Bosnia-Herzegovina program rang in at $90 million. That represents a decrease in assistance, as the Bosnians take on a greater role in managing their own affairs.

Ann Richard, Director of the Office of Resources, Plans and Policy, told reporters there was still one other positive to note from yesterday's breakdown on the foreign affairs budget request.

"I think it's interesting to note that by the end of Fiscal Year 2000, eight of the original 15 SEED (Support for East European Democracy) countries will have graduated, so most of the funding is now for Southeast Europe. No bilateral funding for Northern Tier countries will continue after the end of this fiscal year."

In the Middle East, Richard said $1.83 billion had been requested to continue the steps started in fiscal year 1999 to promote progress being made between Israel and its neighbors on a comprehensive peace. The funding would include $840 million for Israel, $695 million for Egypt, $150 million for Jordan, and $100 million more for the West Bank and Gaza.

There is also a proposed $28 million in assistance to compensate the People's Republic of China for damage to its embassy in Belgrade. And $20 million, including one million to fund programs that promote regional stability such as cross-border confidence building measures between India and Pakistan.

On a broader note, Richard said money was also requested to meet ongoing efforts to improve diplomatic security, both in the U.S. and abroad, and to fight significant transnational threats like AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and the fight against narco-trafficking and terrorism.

Secretary of State Albright will spend much of the rest of this week briefing Congress about the Democratic President's budget proposal, which still must be approved by the Republican-controlled Congress.