- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

A Clinton administration request for an additional $750 million in U.S. aid for Israel, Egypt and Jordan is meeting stiff resistance on Capitol Hill and is unlikely to be approved, according to signals from Capitol Hill.

"This is a problem for the next administration to handle," said one Hill staffer familiar with the dickering on the issue between Congress and the White House.

A senior staff member on the other side of the Hill echoed the sentiment.

"The president seems to think because it's the Middle East, everyone will get on board and Congress will write a blank check," said the staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He has done a very poor job of convincing members of Congress that this is needed."

Just three weeks after signing the annual foreign-aid bill which provided $2.8 billion for Israel, just under $2 billion for Egypt and $150 million for Jordan President Clinton requested an additional $450 million for Israel, $225 million for Egypt and $75 million for Jordan.

Called an "emergency supplemental," the request includes some $250 million to help Israel pay the $1 billion cost of removing its troops from Lebanon and another $200 million to help it upgrade its Arrow ballistic-missile defense system.

The money for Egypt and Jordan would go for security upgrades, particularly to Egyptian ports. The request was presented as a "package deal, all or nothing," because the Clinton administration believes it cannot give money only to Israel without undermining its role as an evenhanded mediator.

There are few open objections in Congress to the money to Israel, or even Jordan, which has been largely neutral in the recent violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

But there is outright hostility to any new funding for Egypt, which has been outspoken in blaming Israel for the violence and recently recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv.

"Since the beginning of the turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians, Egypt has played an obviously pernicious role," wrote Republican Sens. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sam Brownback, chairman of the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, in a Nov. 30 letter to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

The senators also questioned the billions of dollars in regular assistance the United States gives to Egypt and said they would scrutinize future aid to that country "until Egypt becomes a constructive player on the Middle East scene."

Rep. Sonny Callahan, chairman of the House Appropriations foreign operations, export financing and related programs subcommittee, also questioned the administration request.

"I remain very skeptical … that a true lasting peace agreement can be secured simply by promising more money than has been promised before," Mr. Callahan said on Nov. 14, shortly after he received the request.

"A good case could be made that this matter should be best left for the new administration and the next Congress to address."

Israel still hopes to see the aid approved before Mr. Clinton leaves office.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said Israel has spent $950 million on its withdrawal from Lebanon, or 1 percent of its gross domestic product, and that it had expected the United States to lead the international community in helping to defray the costs.

"We need the money and not just for overall budgetary problems. It sends an important political message as well, about American leadership and involvement in the region," Mr. Regev said.

Asked about the aid for Egypt, Mr. Regev said: "We have had peace with Egypt for 20 years and there have been ups and downs in that relationship. Egypt is an important element in stability in the region," he said.

Pro-Israeli activists in Washington were similarly reluctant to criticize Egypt.

"Our position is that we'd like to see Israel get the supplemental assistance," said Ken Bricker, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "It is a priority for us. Israel needs this money and we are working hard for it."

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