June 9, 2006

House jabs Saudi Arabia in foreign aid bill

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on
Friday took a symbolic jab at Saudi Arabia, accusing the
kingdom of fueling religious extremism and violence, as it
passed a $21.3 billion foreign aid bill.

The bill for next fiscal year, which is $600 million above
the current level but $2.4 billion less than President George
W. Bush sought, cleared the House easily on a 373-34 vote. The
Senate has not yet taken up its version of the bill.

Decrying Saudi Arabia for teaching intolerance and
financing terrorism, lawmakers voted 312-97 to cut the $420,000
the oil-rich kingdom receives to participate in U.S.-backed
military and counter-terrorism training.

"I hope my colleagues send a strong signal symbolically
that enough is enough," said Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York

The funds are intended to provide classroom space and pay
for experts to help train counter-terrorism police.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, said the measure
would hurt efforts to foster Saudi Arabia as a partner in
fighting terrorism. But his was a lonely voice.

Congress has passed similar measures in the past, but Bush
has used a waiver to clear the funds to Saudi Arabia.

In other action on the bill, lawmakers voted 229-174
against a measure to cut $30 million from $545 million in
counter-narcotics funds for Colombia.

Critics said the cut was needed to show displeasure at
Columbia's failure to reduce coca production and continued
alleged human rights abuses by its military.

But other lawmakers said Colombia has made big strides in
quelling violence in the country long wracked by a guerrilla
war funded largely by the drug trade.

"This is not the time to send the signal that we do not
believe that Colombia is doing what it needs to be doing,"
Kolbe said.

Among other measures in the bill are $3.4 billion to fight
global AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; $2 billion for the
Millennium Challenge Corporation that offers aid to countries
that make economic and political reforms; $522 million for
stabilization efforts in Iraq, and $962 million in aid to