By Munir K. Nasser
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright blasted Congress for failing to approve emergency funds to pay America's share of UN peace operations around the world, including the Middle East.
She criticized Congress for giving only one penny out of each federal tax dollar to support US foreign policy, describing such policy as "ridiculous."
Albright, who was speaking to a Jewish audience in Atlanta, Georgia this week, said Congress has "cut the account so severely we may not even be able to pay bills for a beefed up operation near the Israel-Lebanon border."
Albright criticized Congress for approving this year a budget resolution that will slash more than 12 percent from President Clinton's foreign affairs funding request. Meanwhile, she added, Congress has failed to approve emergency funds to pay the US share of UN peace operations in Kosovo, East Timor and the Middle East.
Albright warned Congress that the 21st century is no time for America to retreat. "Congress should approve the funds the President has requested so we can meet our responsibilities in the Middle East and around the world," she declared. "I think if I were to take a poll even here and ask people how much money we spend on foreign assistance or my foreign policy budget, many of you might guess 10 percent of our overall budget, 25 percent. Let me tell you what it is: less than 1 percent. Only one penny out of your federal dollar goes to support our foreign policy. That is ridiculous," she stressed.
Albright assured her Jewish audience of America's commitment to the security and defense of Israel, which "will remain as fixed and permanent as the sky," she stated. "America's support will mean little if we don't have resources to back it up."
She noted that the US has provided generous assistance to reinforce its commitment to Israel and support for peace. "This remains a cornerstone of our policy," she said. "But even a cornerstone can erode if the building above it collapses and we are currently engaged in yet another struggle to obtain the resources we need to sustain America's leadership role," she pointed out.
Albright warned that the weeks to come will be critical for the peace process. "Either we will see a retrenchment that will carry with it dangers far exceeding the risks inherent in peace," she explained, "or bold strides in the direction of an historic breakthrough. Our hopes are high but our expectations are realistic and the outcome remains uncertain."
Albright told her audience that there is an historic opportunity for President Clinton to be able to make a difference. However, she added, the decisions that have to be made have to be made by the leaders themselves. "The United States can help, can create the venue, can make suggestions, can narrow gaps, and can do all kinds of things. But ultimately, these are existential decisions for the people and the leaders who are there," she stressed.
On the Lebanon border, Albright said that Prime Minister Barak took a bold and courageous step in deciding to pull the Israeli troops out of Lebanon. She said the US was working with the UN to make sure that the border is secure and that it has been verified that the Israelis have pulled out.
"I have been dealing with this very specific issue because the Lebanese are very concerned and a little suspicious about some of the things that are going on, so they have not been very eager to say that what the United Nations has done is verifiable. But the United Nations has, in fact, been tasked with doing the verification of the border and they have declared it that the Israelis have withdrawn. That is a dangerous area and we all want to make sure that there are no provocations," she said.
In a response to a question from the audience on the impact of US sanctions on Iraq "with Saddam Hussein complaining that they're hurting average people," Albright said she was glad that "people aren't out there demonstrating against me on this - and I have now survived three commencements being called a war criminal and various things because of what we're doing on Iraq."
Albright added that she has a lot in common with the people who demonstrate about what is happening to the children of Iraq. "I would say I care a great deal about them, perhaps more than their leader. But I am demonstrating against Saddam Hussein, not against the United States government for dealing with a dictator," she declared.
On Syria, Albright said that the Syrians seem to be in a position "where we are working on how to get that track going." She noted that in the Geneva meeting between President Clinton and the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, "it was clear that there was a disagreement about what was meant about the Israelis withdrawing from the Golan and we set it aside."
She added that when she recently went to Damascus, "Dr. Bashar Assad said that he wanted to continue to work on the peace process. But I had met with Foreign Minister Shara in Cairo a few days before that and I think we have both said that the door is open." - Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)