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US House Passes Foreign Aid Bill - 2001-12-20

The House of Representatives has approved (by a 357 to 66 vote) a $15.3 billion compromise foreign aid bill for the current fiscal year that began October first. The measure recommends sanctions against the Palestinian Authority if it does not comply with peace accords, and suspends a ban on military aid to Azerbaijan. The Senate is expected to pass the bill Thursday before sending it to President Bush for his signature.

The bill a compromise between House and Senate-passed versions of the legislation provides nearly $3 billion in aid to Israel and almost $2 billion to Egypt. The measure recommends but does not require that the president impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Yasser Arafat, if they do not abide by peace accords or end attacks against Israel. "I think it sends the right message to the Palestinians, comply with your commitments regarding the renunciation of terror and violence, and no sanctions will be imposed," says bill sponsor and Arizona Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe. "I also believe it gives the President and the Secretary of State additional leverage in their discussions with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority."

The bill also provides for an end to the ban on U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan. The Bush administration sought the move to reward Azerbaijan, a potential new source of oil, for cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that lifting the ban could spark renewed violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the mainly-Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that tried to secede and join Armenia in 1988. Under the compromise measure, $4 million in military aid will go to Armenia. Lawmakers vowed to review the issue next year.

The foreign aid bill also maintains President Bush's ban on U.S. funds for family planning groups that perform or advocate abortions overseas an issue that prompts heated debate each year.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York, expressed disappointment. "I believe this policy is a blight on our foreign assistance program."

The bill provides $34 million to the U.N. Fund for Population Activities, a $3.5 million decrease demanded by conservative lawmakers who say the program helps pay for abortions in China. It is an argument that supporters of the program deny.

The legislation also allocates $625 millon to Mr. Bush's Andean initiative, which aims to fight drug production and trafficking in Colombia and six neighboring countries.