US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that she will recommend to President Barack Obama that he veto any bill that proposes new conditions to US assistance to its allies, including Pakistan, in a letter that the top US diplomat sent to the chairperson of a Congressional panel that voted to approve the bill.
In a letter to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (a Republican from Florida), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary Clinton said that the effect of the restrictions in the bill would be “debilitating to her efforts to carry out a considered foreign policy and diplomacy, and to use foreign assistance strategically to that end.”
With regard to Pakistan specifically, Clinton said that the bill “toughens the certification criteria for assistance under the current Kerry-Lugar-Berman Pakistan legislation and removes altogether that law’s waiver authorities.”
While Clinton claimed to be speaking for herself, it would be highly unusual for a US Secretary of State to publicly ask for a presidential veto without a private assurance from the president that he would stand behind such a demand.
The 2012 Foreign Relations Authorisation Act, which passed the House committee on July 22, calls for US assistance to Pakistan being subject to the Secretary of State testifying about Pakistan’s co-operation with the United States on “the existence of an official or unofficial support network in Pakistan for Osama Bin Laden”.
The bill asks Pakistan to provide the US with access to Bin Laden’s relatives, his Abbottabad residence and material collected from within the compound.
Other conditions laid out in the bill’s draft say that Pakistan should facilitate visas for “official US visitors engaged in counter-terrorism efforts and training or other cooperative programmes and projects in Pakistan.”
The bill also says that the US government officials must testify that Pakistan “is using defence articles and defence services provided by the United States under the Foreign Military Sales programme according to the end-use purposes, security requirements, and other terms and conditions agreed to by the United States at the time of transfer or by subsequent agreement.”
Democrats on the committee mostly voted against the bill while Republicans mostly voted in favour of it.
Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani told The Express Tribune that he agreed with the contents of Secretary Clinton’s letter to Ross-Lehtinen.
An aide to the chairperson told The Express Tribune in response to Secretary Clinton’s letter: “The Chairwoman is disappointed that the Obama administration would stand in the way of a bill that saves billions of dollars, mandates needed bureaucratic and policy reforms, enhances US security by placing conditions on US assistance to Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority, and blocks US tax dollars from being wasted on foreign organizations, programs, and governments that work to undermine US interests abroad.”
“I hear the demands of the American people to stop the spending spree, and that is why I am unwilling to agree to the huge overall spending increase that the President wanted in this bill. My legislation protects and advances our national security interests and priorities while rejecting the notion that it takes more government and more spending to do so,” the aide quoted the congresswoman as having said.
On Wednesday, the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee for House Appropriations Committee unanimously passed a bill that also slashed funding for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development and proposed new conditions on US assistance to Pakistan.
The foreign affairs committee bill will be sent to the floor of the US House of Representatives for a vote, and then to the Senate. The Democratic Party controls the Senate, whereas the Republican Party has the majority in the House of Representatives.
Secretary Clinton called President Asif Al Zardari late on Thursday night, though it was not immediately clear whether the two leaders discussed the bill or wider US aid to Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2011.