Obama asks for $770 million to boost Arab democracy
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday requested a fund of nearly $800 million to boost political and other reforms in Arab countries undergoing pro-democracy revolutions.
The new fund is part of $51.6 billion requested for the State Department and US Agency for International Development in 2013, which amounts to around 1.4 percent of the government’s entire budget, the State Department said.
The department said it requested “$770 million for a new Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund to respond strategically to the historical changes taking place across the region.”
US officials said all but $70 million is new money.
“The fund will incentivize long-term economic, political and trade reforms — key pillars of stability — by supporting governments that demonstrate a commitment to undergo meaningful change and empower their people,” it said.
US officials told reporters on condition of anonymity that the funds could be used for countries such as Syria, Yemen, Tunisia and Morocco, and at this point it was unclear how the money would be allocated.
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is accused of resorting to violence to stay in power. In Yemen and Tunisia, transitions are under way with the exits of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has introduced constitutional reforms.
The new fund will be in addition to existing bilateral assistance between the United States and individual Arab countries, officials said.
The State Department said the United States re-allocated around $500 million in existing funds to help transitions in 2011.
The State Department also pointed out that the Obama budget retained $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt, even though the administration has warned such aid will be reviewed in the current year amid a dispute with Cairo over a crackdown on US-funded pro-democracy groups.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the warning for 2012 remained in place, noting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to certify first whether Egypt is making progress toward democracy.
But she added: “Let’s hope we’re still not in this situation in 2013.
“We do have concerns that if we can’t resolve this situation it could have implications for the whole relationship with Egypt, including what we would like to do together and how we would like to support them.”
The proposed budget also contains requests of $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel and $300 million in such aid for Jordan.
Fiscal year 2013 begins in October this year.
The State Department said the request contains a core budget of $43.4 billion for funding the long-term national security mission of the State Department and USAID.
A further $8.2 billion is requested to support “the extraordinary and temporary costs of civilian-led programs and missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The Obama budget is seen as having little chance of being voted into law.