- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

Senators expressed doubts about a $410 million funding package proposed by the Bush administration to recompense U.S. allies in Iraq and other fronts for their efforts in the global war on terror.

Lawmakers from both parties questioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice closely on the need for the fund and the vague way in which the money would be distributed.

“Flexibility is one thing. A slush fund is another,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

Miss Rice said the Global War on Terror Partners Fund was intended, in part, to recognize the financial strain placed on smaller countries that have joined the U.S. global campaign on terror.

An additional $200 million would be given to countries engaged in peacekeeping missions.

She said Poland, which took a major role in postwar Iraq, had spent $500 million on its deployment there.

“For a country just barely out of the communist phase itself, this is an extraordinary expenditure of forces,” she told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

She declined to give a list of countries that might receive money under the program, saying the administration needed the fund to “respond in a way that goes directly to the problem at hand at any given time.”

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the committee, said he feared parts of the program could duplicate Defense Department military aid programs and noted its open-ended nature.

“I think we’re stepping into a new era here,” he said. Congress “should have some way to keep track of that assistance.”

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, vowed to oppose the fund if the administration declined to detail where the money would go.

“Why does this administration believe the Appropriations Committee or Congress should have no say in how this foreign aid program should be spent?” he asked. “Is this not an assault on the congressional power of the purse?”

Miss Rice said U.S. officials did not see the fund as a reward to countries that backed American military action in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“It’s not an issue of paying them back for what they’ve already done,” she said. “It really is to enhance their capability to keep going in ways that take the pressure off of American forces, that take the pressure off of American personnel, that enhance their capabilities in a very timely fashion.”

At a House hearing on the State Department budget, Miss Rice defended the administration’s request for about $1.2 billion in fiscal 2006 for the construction and security of a new embassy in Baghdad.

Even congressional Republicans have complained about the price tag for what would be the largest U.S. embassy in the world.

Miss Rice said the money was needed to provide adequate facilities and protection for U.S. diplomats working “in a very dangerous place.”

The current embassy, housed in a former palace of dictator Saddam Hussein, lacks the security and physical buffers of U.S. embassies in far less unstable countries, she said.

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