A top Bush administration official says the United States is willing to help Argentina get international aid for its faltering economy but only if the government is willing to take difficult economic steps. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice says Argentina "has no better friend than the United States."

But in a speech to the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington, Ms. Rice said it was important that Argentina carry out difficult economic reforms before getting any additional money from the International Monetary Fund:

"It is not an unwillingness to have international assistance go to Argentina. It is an understanding that the conditions have to be right so that those resources actually make a difference. And some of the things that Argentina needs to do will improve confidence in Argentina just by doing them."

The IMF is urging Argentina, South America's second-largest economy, to get government spending under control and to come up with an economic recovery plan that would help end three years of recession.

Ms. Rice says President Bush is in constant contact with Argentine and regional leaders in hopes of helping the country find a way back to sustainable economic growth.