- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush yesterday formally announced the 16 countries, including eight in Africa, that have been chosen to participate in a new foreign-aid program that ties U.S. assistance to political, social and economic reforms.

Standing in front of flags from the 16 nations, Mr. Bush said under the new program, known as the Millennium Challenge Account, America is pledging to increase development assistance by 50 percent over three years.

“This divide between wealth and poverty, between opportunity and misery, is far more than a challenge to our compassion,” Mr. Bush said. “Persistent poverty and oppression can spread despair across an entire nation, and they can turn nations of great potential into the recruiting grounds of terrorists.”

Mr. Bush outlined the program in March 2002. It sought an extra $5 billion annually starting in 2006, a 50 percent increase over the base foreign-aid budget of $10 billion. Earlier this year, Congress approved $1 billion for the program for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The 16 countries are Armenia, Benin, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Georgia, Ghana, Honduras, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu. Funding is not guaranteed for any of the nations.

To win a grant, nations must develop proposals explaining how they will further address the needs of their people and increase economic growth. The proposals must set measurable benchmarks, Mr. Bush said.

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a hunger-relief group, welcomed the selection of eight African countries because that is where the hunger is widespread.

“What is now needed is for Congress to fully fund the Millennium Challenge Account for the next fiscal year,” he said.

Congressional critics and others say the program is too limited in scope and will not do much to help impoverished masses in many of the recipient countries.

Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, has found fault with the program’s eligibility criteria and its organizational structure. Still, Mr. Lantos, who was at the ceremony, said the proposal is long overdue.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indian Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who also was at the ceremony, called the program a “bold initiative” that will help “jump-start economies in some of the poorest countries.”

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