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US Lawmakers Debate Iraq, Aid to Egypt, Other International Issues

Iraq, U.S. foreign assistance, nuclear proliferation, and human rights were among issues debated Wednesday during consideration by the House of Representatives International Relations Committee of legislation to fund the U.S. State Department and foreign assistance programs.

Consideration of the legislation provided an opportunity to debate some of the high profile issues in U.S. relations with other countries.

The bill provides about $10 billion in funds for the next two fiscal years, most of which goes to the State Department and $652 million for U.S. international broadcasting.

Some of the most emotional debate occurred during discussion of numerous amendments by lawmakers, including one on the issue of aid to Egypt, which the Bush administration considers a key ally in the war on terrorism and a force for democratic change in the Middle East.

Congressman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, opposed a provision in the bill to transfer $40 million in military aid to Egypt to economic support, an amount that would increase over the next three years:

"The moving of [these] funds could seriously endanger American lives around the world. Egypt has been a proven partner in the war on terrorism," Mr. Issa says.

Democrats called the U.S.-Egyptian relationship lopsided in favor of military assistance, and faulted Egypt for what they called insufficient help in the war on terrorism, and President Hosni Mubarak's slowness to move toward democratic reforms.

Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley says, "to equate Egypt and Israel and suggest they are equal allies of ours in the fight against terrorism or in anything else I think is laughable."

Other debate occurred on an amendment by Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, which was rejected by the committee, calling on President Bush to develop and advise Congress on a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq.

The committee session also featured the latest Democrat-sponsored attempt to press the Bush administration to put pressure on Pakistan to allow U.S. officials to personally interview Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, who admitted spreading proliferating nuclear technology.

New York Congressman Gary Ackerman supported language to block U.S. military aid and sales to Pakistan, exclusive of training funds, until Islamabad provides unrestricted access.

"We have given Pakistan a get-out-jail-free card on the single worst case of proliferation in the last 50 years. It's time for that to change," he says.

Tom Lantos
Fellow Democratic lawmaker Tom Lantos was among those opposing the amendment.

"There are complexities here that play directly into the role Pakistan is now playing very effectively with respect to U.S. national security interests," he says.

Also discussed in the House committee meeting was the question of human rights in Burma, with lawmakers making statements condemning the continued house arrest of [Burmese democracy leader] Aung San Suu Kyi.

In other areas, the State Department funding legislation sharply condemns what it calls the brutal treatment, imprisonment and torture of Iranian civilians who express political dissent and states support for transparent and full democracy in Iran.

Another provision calls for a report from the Bush administration on U.S. efforts to press Asian countries to serve as locations for U.S. processing of North Koreans who flee their country seeking refugee status.

On international broadcasting, the legislation permanently authorize the operations of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia, provides support for continued broadcasting to Cuba, and requires a report on internet jamming by repressive foreign governments and U.S. efforts to counter this.