U.S. Wants Foreign Aid Flexibility, but Doesn’t Plan to Cut Israel Aid

Senior State Department officials urged Congress on Thursday to give the Bush administration greater flexibility in providing economic and military assistance to foreign countries.

But Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said that even if Congress did so, Israel and Egypt would continue to receive the same level of aid the two countries have enjoyed for the last several years.

His comments seemed to lift the uncertainty about whether there would be a reduction in aid to Israel, in light of a proposal made earlier this month by Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.).

Dole suggested cutting aid to the five largest recipients by 5 percent, in order to provide funds for emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and Panama.

The five countries are Israel, Egypt, the Philippines, Turkey and Pakistan.

While not mentioning Dole’s specific suggestions, Eagleburger said the “Dole proposal has generated what we would consider to be a useful debate on the subject.”

The deputy secretary’s remarks were made as he and other State Department officials briefed reporters on the department’s budgetary requests for the 1991 fiscal year.

They include $1.8 billion in military aid and $1.2 billion economic aid for Israel, and $2.3 billion in military aid and $965 million in economic aid for Egypt.

Egypt has been linked with Israel in the aid package, ever since the two countries signed the 1978 Camp David Accords. Aid to several other countries is also earmarked by Congress, giving the administration little discretion in apportioning aid to other countries.

‘RAPID CHANGES’ CITED

According to Eagleburger, 92 percent of the $4.7 billion in military aid, and 82 percent of the $3.2 billion in economic aid, is earmarked by Congress.

This fiscal year, in addition to retaining the earmarks, Congress also cut the total foreign aid budget, meaning the administration had to cut or eliminate aid for countries throughout the world, the deputy secretary said.

“We need greater flexibility to meet the rapid changes taking place around the world,” said Eagleburger.

Conditions in such places as Eastern Europe are changing so rapidly that flexibility is needed to meet problems as they occur, rather than have the money earmarked for specific items, he said.

Nevertheless, the administration has no plans to reduce aid to the Middle East, especially with Secretary of State James Baker “deeply engaged in the effort to move the peace process forward.”

He appeared to rule out a change in the appropriations for Israel and Egypt, even if there is no progress in the peace effort, because the Middle East “continues to be a terribly sensitive area and issue.”

“The need to maintain stability in the area at the same time the secretary is working hard to bring about movement in the peace process would seem to me to argue that, in fact, that is an area where assistance should continue at the level we have suggested,” he said.

Baker himself sounded a similar theme in testimony Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He, too, stressed that the administration’s request for flexibility is not aimed at any specific country, but at the system of earmarking most items.

MORE MONEY FOR REFUGEES

In his testimony, Baker mentioned that he had requested a $70 million supplemental appropriations bill for the State Department’s refugee budget for the current fiscal year.

Dede Spitznagel, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, confirmed the request Thursday, but said OMB had not decided whether to seek the funds from Congress.

The money is needed to bridge a shortfall to bring 40,000 Soviet refugees to the United States this year with full government aid. An additional 10,000 refugees will be admitted with private assistance.

The State Department’s 1991 budget includes a little more than $450 million for bringing 110,000 refugees to the United States, including 40,000 government-funded Soviet refugees.

The $450 million is $82 million more than the department’s refugee budget this fiscal year, so the same shortfall this fiscal year is not expected to occur in 1991.

(JTA Washington correspondent Howard Rosenberg contributed to this report.)

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