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U.S. Promises To Give Mideast Aid

October 26, 1999

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The United States has a strategic interest in delivering a promised $1.6 billion package of special peace aid to Israel and the Palestinians, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, confident that the funds will come through despite congressional objections, said he has already begun spending some of the aid to cover the cost of an Israeli troop pullback in the West Bank.

President Clinton has promised $1.2 billion to Israel to help pay for the implementation of last year’s Wye River land-for-security agreement, and told the Palestinians they would receive $400 million in economic aid.

Last week, Clinton vetoed a foreign aid bill that did not contain the first $500 million installment of the Wye funding.

Cohen said the aid package served U.S. interests.

``It should not be viewed as some kind of humanitarian gesture,″ Cohen said. ``A comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East is fundamental to American security interests as well.″

Cohen spoke at a joint press conference with Barak, who also serves as Israel’s defense minister. Cohen is on the last stop of a nine-nation Middle East tour.

Israel and Palestinians have lobbied the Republican-led Congress to reconsider the funding.

Barak said support for Mideast peace efforts should not fall victim to political squabbling in Washington. ``We are already spending this money and we assume it is going to happen,″ Barak said. ``We are working on it (carrying out Wye) intensively so the (funds) are essential.″

Cohen’s nine-day trip has included stops in Egypt, Jordan, and Persian Gulf states. He was to fly back to Washington later Tuesday.

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