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US Legislation Sends Messages to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan


The U.S. Congress has overwhelmingly approved legislation to implement most recommendations of the bipartisan September 11 Commission that investigated the 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks in the United States. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill on some of what the measure does, and the strong messages it sends to countries the Bush administration considers allies in its war on terrorism.

Passing the legislation, which was the product of a House-Senate conference, has been a top agenda item for Democrats since they assumed control of Congress last January.

Among main points, it requires screening at foreign ports of all cargo destined for the United States within five years, and screening within three years of all cargo going on passenger aircraft.

It also provides more than $4 billion for rail, and other transit security, improves U.S. government information sharing, and makes changes in the U.S. visa waiver program.

For the first time, the national intelligence budget would be disclosed to the public, at least for the years 2007 and 2008, with the president authorized to waive the requirement in 2009.

Although the September 11 Commission supported doing so, the Bush administration said it would harm U.S. national security.

In a news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the legislation honors the victims of September 11 and took a swipe at Republicans who she said were unable to pass the legislation. "We have done in six months, what the previous [Republican-controlled] Congress failed to do in six years," she said.

But while most Republicans supported it in the final vote, some faulted the legislation in a number of areas.

"If anyone thinks that this bill is going to make us safer, by any of the major provisions in the bill, they are wrong. They are dead wrong," said John Mica, a Florida Republican.

Tucked into the legislation are strong messages to three foreign governments, as Democrat Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos explained. "We will require the administration to develop a better strategy for cultivating U.S. relationship with three countries crucial to our counter-terrorist efforts: Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

The measure calls on Pakistan to secure its borders to prevent the movement of militants and terrorists into Afghanistan, and effectively deal with Islamic extremism.

U.S. security assistance is restricted until Pakistan [makes] all possible efforts to eliminate the Taleban, and ensure that they have ceased to exist as an organization capable of conducting military, insurgent or terrorist activities in Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Strong language is employed regarding Saudi Arabia, with lawmakers stating that the U.S. must engage with the Saudi government to openly confront not only terrorism but the lack of political freedoms.

On Afghanistan, lawmakers support the continued deployment of U.S. troops. However, they say the U.S., Afghan government and NATO must explore options to address the opium trade, including possible changes in rules of engagement for NATO and coalition forces against narcotics trafficking and kingpins.

Speaker Pelosi said the September 11 bill would go to President Bush next week, saying she hopes he will sign it.

The White House says it will examine the legislation to ensure, in the words of a spokesman, that it strengthens security.

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