US Republicans hit aid to Israel neighbors, Pakistan

US Republicans moved Wednesday to cut aid to several of Israel's neighbors and to tighten control of assistance to Pakistan, vowing to get tough on Islamic militants and tame US spending.

The Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee pushed a range of issues in a spending bill for the fiscal year starting in October, including cutting US contributions to the United Nations and restricting funding for abortion.

But to come into force, Republican lawmakers will need to reach a compromise with the Senate where President Barack Obama's Democratic Party retains control and is mostly supportive of the administration's international engagements.

The House spending bill would end decades of US security aid to Egypt, where protests swept out President Hosni Mubarak in February, unless the new leaders fully implement a peace treaty with Israel and exclude the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Republicans would also cut off security assistance to Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Yemen if Islamic militant movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas hold any position in government.

"Our goal is to promote democratic governments in these countries and ensure that US taxpayers are not subsidizing groups that seek to undermine US policies, interests and allies," said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House committee.

The bill would also force the United States to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Like most countries that recognize Israel, the United States maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv as it waits for a settlement on hotly contested Jerusalem.

Congress, where Israel enjoys strong support, in 1995 required the United States to move the embassy to Jerusalem but three presidents have deferred the shift. Under the House bill, the president would lose the waiver right in 2014.

Ros-Lehtinen said the Republican bill on foreign affairs would cut $6.4 billion from Obama's requests, in a step toward controlling the ballooning US debt.

The bill would impose tighter controls on assistance to Pakistan in light of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden and persistent questions about the country's military and intelligence.

The Obama administration recently suspended about one-third of its $2.7 billion annual defense aid to Pakistan. But it has assured Pakistan it is committed to a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian package approved in 2009 that aims to build schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions.

The Republican bill would also make the civilian aid contingent on measurable progress by Pakistan in fighting Islamic militants.

"The language in this bill puts that government on notice that it is no longer business as usual and that they will be held to account if they continue to refuse to cooperate," Ros-Lehtinen said.

Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the committee and a main author of the 2009 bill, said he agreed on the need to "get tough with Pakistan" but disagreed on restrictions over civilian aid.

"The key to long-term stability in Pakistan, and the only way we'll ever get Pakistan to change its behavior, is by strengthening its civilian institutions -- not weakening them as this bill will do," Berman said.

At the start of a sometimes confrontational meeting, the committee voted almost along party lines to cut the $44 million in US funding for the Organization of American States, a regional bloc of 35 countries.

"Every time we turn around, the OAS, instead of supporting democracies is supporting and coddling, if you will, the likes of Hugo Chavez," said Republican Representative Connie Mack, referring to Venezuela's president.

Democrats sharply criticized Mack. Representative Gary Ackerman said that the United States would effectively be pulling out in its own continent in a global competition with China for "hearts and minds."

"At the proper time, I might just offer an amendment to pull out of the world and put all this money into digging a moat around the United States and putting a big dome over the thing," Ackerman said sarcastically.


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