- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2000

House Republicans early yesterday brokered a deal between farm-state and Cuban-American lawmakers to lift sanctions against Cuba and let the communist nation buy food and medicine from U.S. companies.
The compromise, which was reached at 2 a.m. despite opposition from the Republican leadership, also permits sales to Iran, Sudan, Libya and North Korea, and has support from farm-state lawmakers of both parties.
Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republicans, reluctantly accepted the agreement in exchange for more limits on U.S. tourism to the island and for the requirement that Cuba pay up front rather than with U.S. loans or credits.
"This agreement is much better for us than current law," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said. "No credits to Castro and no tourism either."
Currently, President Clinton has the power to lift travel restrictions on Cuba and impose embargoes. The agreement would require a president to get congressional approval for such action.
But the chance of a Republican-led Congress lifting decades-old trade limits on Fidel Castro's regime is clearly a bitter pill for many Republicans, some of whom accused the Clinton administration of cozying up to communist nations.
"Easing of sanctions on a communist dictator is the result of a president who spent seven years practicing a foreign policy soft on communism and easy on dictators," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
Asked if Mr. Castro had done anything to merit a change in U.S. policy, House Majority Leader Dick Armey said "no" and added that he opposes the deal.
But Mr. Armey said Republican leaders could not stop the desire of a majority of House members interested in exporting agricultural products to the communist nation.
"There is a strong desire to open that market for American sales," Mr. Armey said. "You cannot thwart the will of the House.
"Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug," Mr. Armey said. "This time, I'm the bug."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott also opposes the plan but said the votes are there to pass it and he accepts the decision.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people in Congress think we ought to start dealing with Cuba," the Mississippi Republican said. "I don't see that there is a need to do that or a reason to do that. Castro has not changed. It's still a dictatorship and he's still a Communist."
Rep. George Nethercutt, Washington Republican and the plan's author, said lifting sanctions will aid farmers and the U.S. economy.
"This is outdated foreign policy; sanctions should not be used as weapons for foreign policy," said Mr. Nethercutt, who has worked for three years to lift the sanctions.
Agriculture Department statistics say lifting the embargo on all five countries has a market potential of $7 billion a year $1 billion from Cuba, he said.
This provision will allow farms to sell wheat, lentils, beans, soy and other products, which promises to be very beneficial to farmers in Mr. Nethercutt's district.
"When you export food and medicine, you export democracy it's an evolving process," Mr. Nethercutt said.
Mr. Nethercutt is one of the most vulnerable members of the House, where Republicans hold a 222-211 edge. Senior House aides said that vulnerability is a major reason Republican leaders allowed the proposal to proceed.
Mr. Nethercutt defeated former House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 and pledged to serve only three terms. But Mr. Nethercutt broke that pledge and is now targeted for defeat by U.S. Term Limits an organization that lobbies for term-limits legislation. The organization plans to spend $1 million campaigning against Mr. Nethercutt.
One House staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that during negotiations last week, Mr. Armey told the group only one person was in the room who he was concerned would not be re-elected this fall Mr. Nethercutt.
The aide reported that Mr. Diaz-Balart said in the meeting that Republicans should equally fear that lifting trade barriers with Cuba would keep Cuban-Americans away from the polls and hurt Texas Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Florida and Republican Rep. Bill McCollum's campaign for the Senate.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican leadership's point man in the negotiations, said the deal would limit use of U.S. farmer products as a foreign policy tool.
"It removes a major problem as far as the agricultural community is concerned," Mr. Blunt said. "Using ag products as a tool for foreign policies only hurts the agricultural community and our country."
Mr. Blunt, who is also Mr. Bush's liaison in Congress, said he has not spoken to the likely Republican presidential nominee on the issue.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said they have reviewed preliminary reports of the deal and they are concerned about the presidential restrictions. However, he indicated Mr. Clinton may support it.
"We believe as our overall policy that that's something we can support if it goes directly to the benefit of the Cuban people and not the Castro government," Mr. Lockhart said.
The agreement is to strip the provision from the Agriculture appropriations bill on the House floor and add the new agreement to an annual spending bill already passed by the House and Senate and in a conference committee.
Analysts estimate that the provision forbidding Cuba from access to U.S. credit would limit food sales to about $45 million annually.
"The fact that Cuba will only be able to import food products using third-country financing or its own resources will limit the value of bulk food commodities it buys from the United States," John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, told the Associated Press.
Tom Carter contributed to this report.

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