Senate Cuts El Salvador Aid, Agrees To Forgive Egypt Debt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate, its members weary of a decade of wrangling over U.S. policy toward El Salvador, is endorsing a sharp drop in military aid to the country, marking a defeat for President Bush.
Senators voted late Friday to cut El Salvador’s $85 million in annual military aid in half, and set conditions on the remaining aid designed to encourage both the government and the country’s leftist rebels to reach a negotiated peace.
But at the same time, Bush was able to salvage a victory in the $15.5 billion foreign aid bill when senators voted 55-42 to forgive $6.7 billion in military debts Egypt owes the United States.
Administration officials had portrayed the debt forgiveness as a reward to Egypt that is crucial to preserving an Arab consensus in support of the U.S. troop deployment in the Persian Gulf.
The Senate adjourned for the weekend without finishing work on the foreign aid measure after it hit a snag over whether to reverse a five-year ban on U.S. aid to international population agencies that advocate abortion.
On the El Salvador issue, the Senate first voted 74-25 for an amendment by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., calling for an immediate 50 percent withholding of El Salvador’s fiscal 1991 military aid.
Under the amendment, if the country’s leftist FMLN rebels walk away from U.N.-sponsored peace talks the aid could be restored. But if the government abandons peace efforts, what’s left of the military aid could be cut as well.
″People are just fed up with this thing,″ Dodd said, referring to the millions of dollars in U.S. aid sent to El Salvador over the past decade. Other senators also expressed a weariness over the issue.
The conditions in the Senate foreign aid bill are similar to those contained in a House-passed version. The two bills still have to be reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee, but the El Salvador provisions are expected to be in the final version sent to President Bush.
Top administration officials and even Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani had been calling senators asking them to vote for the aide package, and the size of the defeat took administration backers by surprise.
″It was like a wave,″ said one administration official, adding that the tide seemed to turn after Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., who had been a supporter, voted the other way.
United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at a cease-fire between rebel and government troops have been stalled over the question of military reform. The rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front claim the government has been intransigent about dismissing officers linked to human rights violations.
Under the Caracas agreement, such political agreements must be worked out before a cease-fire takes effect.
An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in the Salvadoran civil war; many of the deaths have been blamed on right-wing death squads operating in cooperation with the military. Several military officials have been charged in the murders last year of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.
The overall foreign aid bill provides economic and military support for U.S. friends and allies around the world in the coming year.
As usual, Israel gets the lion’s share of the money - $1.8 billion in military aid and $1.2 billion in economic aid, along with an assortment of provisions providing other economic benefits.
Other large earmarks are for Egypt, $2.1 billion; Morocco, $72 million; Greece, $382 million; and Turkey, $545 million.
For the first time in years, there is no earmark for Pakistan, which historically has been among the largest aid recipients but now faces a cutoff because of apparent violation of nuclear non-proliferation requirements.