The Bush administration said Friday it opposes a Congressional move to reduce U.S. aid to Nigeria, if it does not turn over former Liberian President Charles Taylor to the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has been under de facto house arrest in Nigeria since August, under an exile deal supported by the United States.
A provision of a budget bill now in the Senate would restrict U.S. aid to countries where war crimes fugitives from Sierra Leone and Rwanda are "credibly alleged to be living."
But the State Department says it opposes the legislation, as it would apply to Nigeria in the Charles Taylor case. That's because, among other things, the United States supported his exile to Nigeria as a way to save lives and bring the Liberian conflict to an end.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said restricting U.S. aid to Nigeria would be counter-productive, and would infringe on the authority of President Bush to conduct U.S. foreign policy.
"We support bringing those accused of violations of international humanitarian law to justice," he said. "At the same time, as a general matter, we oppose restrictions on the president's authority to conduct the foreign policy of the United States. He should enjoy the maximum flexibility in designing assistance programs to further our national interest."
Mr. Ereli said the United States is working with Nigeria to facilitate Mr. Taylor facing justice, and that the issue figured in a State Department meeting Thursday between Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
He said the proposed aid restriction does not take into account Nigeria's role in easing Mr. Taylor into exile, and that the former Liberian leader is under "de facto house arrest" and in a "restrictive environment" at a compound in southeastern Nigeria under the exile arrangement.
Spokesman Ereli also confirmed the Bush administration's decision earlier this week to set aside, for the time being, a $2 million reward for Mr. Taylor's apprehension that had been included in an $87 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan, approved by Congress earlier this month.
He said the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program is normally to help locate missing war crimes fugitives, and is not applicable to the case of Mr. Taylor, whose whereabouts are known, and for whom efforts are already underway to have him face justice.
The prospect of bounty-hunters attempting to apprehend Mr. Taylor in Nigeria alarmed authorities in Abuja, who complained about the prospective reward to U.S. officials.
The State Department said earlier this week it opposed any violent or illegal actions in Nigeria aimed at obtaining custody of Mr. Taylor outside of government jurisdiction.
Spokesman Ereli said a reward might be posted in the future, if Mr. Taylor's situation changed, but for now, would be set aside as what he termed "an additional tool to be used as necessary."