For Bush, support for war with Iraq comes with a price tag

Knight Ridder NewspapersFebruary 19, 2003 

WASHINGTON — A public dispute this week over how much the United States will pay Turkey to help it weather a war in Iraq has highlighted the fact that President Bush is having to buy support for his policies toward Saddam Hussein.

U.S. diplomats are negotiating deals totaling billions of dollars with Turkey and others, including Israel, Jordan and Egypt, to defray the costs of war or cement official backing for American policy in nations where it is politically unpopular.

Turkey, which suffered an economic disaster from the 1991 war in neighboring Iraq, is asking for as much as $30 billion in aid this time, much of it in loan guarantees that cost taxpayers little. As bargaining power, it is withholding its approval for the United States to station troops in Turkey to open a crucial second front against Iraq.

The Bush administration has offered $6 billion in grants and $20 billion in loan guarantees.

Simultaneously, a high-level Israeli delegation is in Washington hoping to wrap up agreement on a package of aid to boost Israel's military and defray costs from the war on Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Israel, already the No. 1 recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, is asking for roughly $4 billion in additional military aid over the next two to three years, plus $8 billion in loan guarantees.

Jordan, which neighbors Iraq and could face economic dislocation and an influx of refugees, has requested $1 billion.

And Egypt, another top recipient of U.S. aid, recently asked for more assistance, too. It fears a sharp drop in tourism, a mainstay of its economy, from a new war in the Middle East.

None of the money has been requested by the Bush administration, much less approved by Congress. Lawmakers are beginning to ask questions about the foreign assistance bill they may be handed.

"What commitments has the administration made to some of our allies that could be very expensive in the future?" Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., asked Secretary of State Colin Powell during a House Budget Committee hearing last week.

Powell told the committee that the money would be included in a supplemental appropriations request sent to Congress. That request also is expected to include billions more for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq after a war.

"The president has not prepared anybody on this one," said a congressional aide who is collecting data on the administration's promises. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Using the power of the purse is a time-honored way to achieve foreign policy objectives, and it's why the United States, with the world's biggest economy and military, tends to get its way more often than not.

When the U.N. Security Council in November 1990 authorized force to evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait, Yemen joined Cuba as the only countries to vote against the resolution. Minutes later, a top American diplomat told Yemen's U.N. delegate: "That was the most expensive no vote you ever cast." U.S. foreign aid to Yemen, then about $70 million per year, was eliminated for a decade.

Bush and his aides are using more than the relatively small foreign-aid budget to change minds and rally friends.

The White House is preparing to offer visits with Bush to leaders from Central and Eastern Europe who have backed its tough stance on Iraq in the face of stiff criticism from French President Jacques Chirac, who opposes the use of force.

Chirac singled out Bulgaria and Romania for supporting the United States, saying their position threatened their chances of joining the European Union.

The White House plans to offer a visit with Bush to Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov. The United States also reportedly has pledged that Iraq's debts to Bulgaria will be paid after Saddam goes, and has backed Bulgaria's request for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

When 10 Eastern and Central European nations issued a statement in early February backing U.S. policy in Iraq, they were in part thanking Washington for years of supporting their bids to join the NATO alliance.

"NATO enlargement was not an unhelpful tool," said a Democratic congressional staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity. There was "an understanding they had to be sensitive to our concerns," he said.

For Russia, Bush has promised a role for its oil companies in developing Iraq's oil resources. It remains to be seen whether that understanding is enough to overcome Moscow's opposition to war.

It also remains to be seen whether all the American promises are fulfilled.

Turks still complain that the United States didn't come through with all the assistance promised after the last war in Iraq.

And in the war to oust the Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan, Washington promised to help Pakistan, including easing quotas on its textiles. But that proposal has never been sent to Congress, where it probably would be blocked by lawmakers from politically key Southern textile-producing states.

Asked Wednesday whether Turkey could count on U.S. promises of aid this time, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "I think everybody is familiar with our congressional process. We've worked with allies and friends over the years having gotten money from Congress when we needed it."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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