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Israel Hoping to Keep Aid Intact As Support for Dole Idea Falters

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Suspense is building as to how Israel will fare when President Bush presents his 1991 budget to Congress on Monday.

But the expectation on Capitol Hill and in Israeli circles here is that the budget will include the full $3 billion in economic and military assistance that the Jewish state has enjoyed for the past half-decade.

Oded Eran, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy here, said Wednesday, “To the best of my knowledge, there won’t be any cut. There won’t be any changes and so I don’t expect that.”

Concern about a possible cut was heightened last week when Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) proposed that aid be reduced to Israel and other large foreign aid recipients by 5 percent, or $150 million.

Dole called for the cuts to free up money to bolster the emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and Panama. While there is widespread agreement here that such funds must be found, few politicians have been prepared to back publicly his strategy for coming up with the money.

“From what I’ve heard, there wasn’t a great deal of support for the idea of cutting 5 percent across the board or from certain recipients,” said Eran. “However, I think Senator Dole has drawn attention to the situation.”

“There is a need for other countries to be assisted by the United States,” he added. “I think from my conversations with senators and congressmen that they will be looking for ways to deal with the needs other than by cutting aid to the traditional recipients.”

Eran said one way Congress is considering helping other countries is by increasing the foreign aid budget overall.

DOLE IS ‘COMPLETELY ISOLATED’

On Capitol Hill, no other senator has spoken in support of Dole, said one Senate source. “There is not exactly a procession of people supporting it,” the source said.

An aide to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), a senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “The president has been hoping to gain both more funds and more flexibility overall” for the foreign aid budget.

The aide said he does not know if Bush will ask for an increase in the foreign aid budget, to help Eastern Europe and Panama, or if he will ask Congress to reduce its earmarks of aid to Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines and Greece.

Those six countries received close to $7 billion of the $14.6 billion in U.S. foreign aid this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

Israel and Egypt alone received $5.3 billion of that amount. Because of the relatively large amounts for those countries, which Congress required to be spent, the State Department has smaller amounts available for dozens of other countries.

Bush’s 1991 foreign aid request was a low priority this week at meetings between White House officials and Senate Republican leaders.

On Tuesday, when White House Chief of Staff John Sununu visited Capitol Hill, the topic was not discussed, said a Senate aide.

At a luncheon on Tuesday between the Senate Republican Policy Committee and Secretary of State James Baker, it was “more of a non-event” in terms of foreign aid, said a Capitol Hill source.

“There was no acrimonious debate or anything like that,” the Capitol Hill source said. A few senators “spoke up” supporting foreign aid. “That’s really it.”

A staunchly pro-Israel source put a different spin on it, saying, “Dole was completely isolated. The whole (Republican) leadership told him to drop the idea.”

Pressure to cut the federal budget deficit resulted this year in a reduction of Israel’s $3 billion foreign aid package, for the first time ever. Congress cut all non-defense programs by nearly half a percent to fight the war on drugs.

As a result, Israel’s foreign aid this year is $2,986 billion, $13.5 million less than the $3 billion originally earmarked, said an Israeli Embassy official. He said that Israel will be unable to recover that amount.

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