Albion Monitor /News

GOP Demands Anti-Abortion Deal Before Paying UN, IMF Obligations

by Jim Lobe

Sec'y of State Madeleine Albright calls attempt "ridiculous"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright blasted Republican lawmakers on January 13 for refusing to hand over money owed to the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), simply to satisfy their anti-abortion policies.

In framing her 1998 Congressional agenda, she said that securing release of the money will be a top priority for President Bill Clinton's administration. Other major goals will be obtaining Congressional approval to extend U.S. participation in peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia, enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and promoting trade with Africa.

Withholding money due to the United Nations, was "truly ridiculous" and amounted to "legislative blackmail" that undermined U.S. leverage against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Albright said.

"I have to say as I reread this part of the speech," she said at one point, "it is so ludicrous to me that we have done this, that I cannot imagine how we can continue to damage America by holding this plan hostage. It is truly ridiculous."

Most Administration proposals are modest, unlikely to raise controversy in election year
The four goals set by Albright are relatively modest, suggesting concern that mid-term elections in November will make it more difficult to gain bipartisan support for significant foreign policy initiatives, political observers opined. Her plate may already be filled with tough diplomatic challenges, such as salvaging the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, that will require her personal attention, they added.

Albright made no mention, for example, of gaining "fast-track" authority that the administration needs to negotiate new free-trade deals with other countries, notably in Latin America. That was a major administration goal in 1997, but was frustrated by divisions within Clinton's own Democratic Party.

Official sources said the omission reflected the fact that Clinton still has not decided whether to ask Congress for full fast-track authority this year, or to narrow his request to cover only new accords on specific sectors, such as agriculture.

On Bosnia, NATO enlargement, and Africa trade, the administration faces little opposition in Congress. Prying loose funds for the United Nations and the IMF, however, could be a different proposition.

Clinton wants to extend the U.S. mission in Bosnia beyond the June 30 deadline he set when the NATO-led force was first deployed in December 1995. He says eventual withdrawal should be tied to the achievement a series of as-yet undisclosed "benchmarks" designed to bolster the fragile peace in the Balkan nation, rather than to a specific deadline. Washington currently has about 8,000 soldiers serving in the NATO force.

Republican leaders say they want to ensure that these benchmarks are achievable before they sign off on the plan. But strong support for Clinton's policy by former Sen. Robert Dole, who accompanied the president on a quick Christmas trip to Bosnia, makes it more difficult for Republicans to oppose Clinton -- despite doubts that national reconciliation envisaged by 1995 Dayton Accords is realistic.

Similarly, NATO's proposal to accept Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into its ranks faces little opposition in Congress, especially since new NATO and Pentagon estimates project that the costs of absorbing these countries will amount to only a fraction of what originally been thought.

Albright said the administration also will seek approval of its proposed "Africa Growth and Opportunity Act." This would substantially boost export and investment credits and guarantees for U.S. companies active in Africa and authorize debt relief and free-trade deals to African countries which implement market-oriented reforms.

Albright, who toured the region last month, stressed that the initiative was designed to "frame a new American approach to a new Africa." The bill is backed by much of the Democratic leadership, the Congressional Black Caucus, and key Republicans, including House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Supporters of the bill have previously assailed the administration for stalling its passage, but it now appears that Albright has made it a high priority. "We're pleased that she mentioned this so prominently," said one Congressional aide last week.

Anti-abortion forces gained a commitment from Gingrich that linkage between the three will last "in perpetuity"
While these three measures may be relatively easy to achieve, the fate of the UN and IMF appropriations is much more uncertain, observers said. Key Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have vowed to condition both payments on Clinton's agreement to ban aid to groups which use or encourage abortion overseas. Clinton has said he will veto any bill which includes such a condition.

Washington owes the United Nations about $1.4 billion in arrears, although officially it recognizes only about two-thirds of that total.

Last year, it reached agreement with the ultra-right chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms, to pay $926 million of arrears over three years. It also reached agreement with the Senate Republican leadership to pay $3.5 billion for a new IMF emergency fund that could be used to bail out key countries suffering from major financial crises, such as those which have sent East Asian currencies and stock markets plunging in value.

The IMF, which has already committed more than $100 billion to help rescue Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea, is also asking the United States to approve another $14.5 billion this year as part of a quota increase to replenish its funding. The U.S. funding is more urgent than ever, say international financial officials.

Both the UN and IMF appropriations were set to be approved as part of the 1998 foreign bill last November but were split off from it by at the last moment. Anti-abortion lawmakers, who enjoy a solid majority in the House, said they would not approve either measure unless Clinton bowed to their demands.

The White House denounced the move as "utterly bone-headed," but the anti-abortion forces gained a commitment from Gingrich that linkage between the three will last "in perpetuity."

Albright and her boss must now find ways to persuade Gingrich, who was almost ousted from his position in a right-wing rebellion late in 1997, to break or modify that promise.

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Albion Monitor January 19, 1998 (

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