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Bush Seeks Billions in Aid for Mideast (AP) By BARRY SCHWEID WASHINGTON 02/03/05 5:14 PM)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61177-2005Feb3.html AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
WASHINGTON - President Bush is asking Congress for $2.52 billion in military and economic aid for Israel and $350 million to help the Palestinian economy and security forces.

The request for Israel maintains that country´s position as the largest recipient of U.S. aid, according to diplomatic sources. There would be a slight reduction, however, of about $60 million from the previous sum.

As Israel moves toward negotiations with the Palestinians, Bush announced Wednesday night that he will ask Congress for $350 million to improve their security forces and for jobs programs.

Already due to receive $75 million this fiscal year, the Palestinians would get an additional $200 million by Sept. 30, and $150 million for the bookkeeping year that begins then.

A request of $75 million for next year had been expected, but the president is doubling that amount, said Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who is consultant to the Palestinians.

Some $50 million of the new money is ticketed specifically for safeguarding border crossings between the Palestinian-held areas and Israel, the diplomatic sources said Thursday.

Israel, meanwhile, has agreed to a reduction in U.S. economic assistance to $240 million from $360 million, while U.S. military aid is increased to $2.28 billion from $2.22 billion, said the diplomatic sources, who discussed the situation only on grounds of anonymity.

Bolstering Palestinian security could be a key to peace hopes. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is insisting on an end to terror attacks if he is to hold peace talks. Bush also is demanding a good- faith effort to uproot terror groups in Palestinian areas.

The election last month of Mahmoud Abbas, a declared foe of violence against Israel, is viewed by the Bush administration as part of a trend toward democracy. Abbas succeeded the late Yasser Arafat.

Bush in his State of the Union speech Wednesday night listed the Palestinians alongside Afghanistan, Ukraine and Iraq, as moving toward democracy with elections.

"The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure," he said.

"The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach, and America will help them achieve that goal," Bush said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who set off Thursday for a trip to Europe, is due to fly to Israel Sunday night for talks with Sharon and, on the West Bank, with Abbas.

Bush administration officials have concluded that security training needs to be improved, and the Palestinians need more jobs and better facilities, in order for peacemaking with Israel to have a chance.

Egypt on Wednesday summoned the leaders of Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan to a summit meeting next week, and they agreed to attend.

Rice has no plans to attend, but Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who will be in the region with her, probably will represent the United States at the session at Sharm el-Sheik. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 02/03/05)

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