- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

Senate Democrats split with their House counterparts and President Clinton over a proposal to ease sanctions against communist Cuba, threatening to block the measure.

House Democrats expressed reservations on some restrictions in the bill, but lined up to support the proposal, crafted by Republican leaders, which would allow the sale of food and medicine from U.S. companies.

Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota criticized the measure, saying it prohibits Cuban leader Fidel Castro from receiving U.S. government or private financing to purchase food and medicine and restricts tourist travel to the island.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York was joined by a half-dozen members of his party who said that despite their concerns, they endorsed the measure.

"The general agreement is a victorious step in the right direction towards ending our 40-year embargo against Cuba, which has been counterproductive and inhumane for both countries," Mr. Rangel said.

The proposal was agreed to by Republican farm state and Cuban-American lawmakers early Tuesday after weeks of negotiations. It also allows sales to Iran, Sudan, Libya and North Korea, but does not include financing restrictions on those countries.

"This to us is a very good first step," said Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat.

Mr. Dodd countered the proposal takes "one step forward and two steps back."

"It is a clear-cut case of one hand giving while the other takes away, because while it purports to allow for the sale of food and medicine, it proceeds to make it almost impossible to do so," Mr. Dodd said.

At a White House press conference, President Clinton said he was inclined to sign the legislation to benefit Cuba, but also was concerned about the restrictions, which he called "mistakes."

"I have always wanted to sell more food and medicine, not only to Cuba, but to other countries as well," Mr. Clinton said.

"I guess what I want to know, and I just haven't had time to get the analysis from our folks, is whether this will be a net plus in terms of our strategy, which is to reach out to the Cuban people without supporting the Cuban government," Mr. Clinton said.

Currently, Mr. 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.

The bill could come up for a vote as early as this week in the House, where easy passage is expected, but it faces a tougher hurdle in the Senate.

"I will use every parliamentary procedure available to me over the next several days to tie up this bill on the floor of the Senate," Mr. Dodd said. "It's even worse than the status quo."

Mr. Dorgan said he has inserted a provision into the Senate agriculture bill that allows U.S. financing for food and medicine, and said he is urging Senate leaders to allow debate on his measure.

Mr. Dorgan said his provision "effectively does lift sanctions and stops us from using food as a weapon."

"This fig leaf they have developed in the wee hours of the morning to try to make people think they have done something isn't the right way to legislate," Mr. Dorgan said.

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