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Budget focuses foreign aid against terror

By ELI J. LAKE, UPI State Department Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- The budget request for the State Department for 2004 reflects the changing foreign policy priorities of an administration set on winning the global war on terrorism and the hearts and minds of the countries where terrorists recruit.

It includes $30 million to launch the Middle East Television Network, an Arabic language satellite station. Also, the budget will double funding for the Voice of America's Indonesia channel.

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A summary of the budget says the new request will redirect funding to "high priority programs for Near East Asia and South Asia."

The budget envisages $4.7 billion going to economic support and military and counter-terrorism training to front-line states in the war on terror. These states include most U.S. allies in the Middle East and Central Asia and cover a wide variety of programs already under way, such as the effort to train and equip the Yemeni coast guard.

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Under the budget request, the State Department is asking for $2.7 million to provide security for the 2004 Athens Olympics and $33.6 million to hire American guards for its embassy and diplomatic annex to Kabul, Afghanistan now manned by U.S. Marines.

Most posts hire locals for diplomatic security but the summary says that "because of the extreme danger in Kabul, very robust security efforts are needed to protect these two facilities." The new budget also requests an additional $209 million for embassy security, construction and maintenance. The extra funding in part is meant to provide construction improvements for high-risk posts.

As expected, the new budget also has a focus on merit-based development aid. The Bush Administration requests $1.3 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account, a program that ties development assistance to Third World countries to their political and economic reforms.

The new budget also includes $450 million for a new initiative to provide low-cost AIDS antiretroviral drugs to 2 million people suffering from the disease in Africa and the Caribbean.

Big losers in the budget include both big and small programs. The request for military assistance for international peace-keeping operations is just under $95 million -- less than a third of the $375 million allocated in 2002. But estimates for peace-keeping, because it is so controversial on Capitol Hill, are often underestimated in budget requests.

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The budget also does not request any money for the organization charged with overseeing the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor in North Korea, the Korean Energy Development Organization. While the administration last month snuck in a $2.5 million request to keep the organization afloat for the 2003 fiscal year -- largely to pay salaries -- the decision to leave KEDO out of the budget for 2004 might indicate that President George W. Bush does not foresee trying to use energy aid to North Korea to entice Pyongyang to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities to resume.

Finally the administration does not see a need for funding in 2004 for the Iraqi opposition. State Department senior budget analyst Joseph Bowab, briefing reporters on Monday, said: "We believed that with the carry-forward money that we would have in '03 that funding the opposition at that level in '04 would not be necessary."

The opposition, however, has another take. Francis Brooke, the Washington adviser to the Iraqi National Congress, said in a phone interview: "I'm not too worried, we'll be in Baghdad by then."

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