Supporting Our Foreign Policy Priorities

Mr. Speaker, I strongly support the conference report and congratulate the Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations for their leadership in crafting this important legislation and for their work in ensuring that crucial national security priorities are appropriately funded.

Even as our troops are still engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, new challenges to our Nation's security and diplomatic interests are emerging. This bill does a good job of meeting these challenges within the confines of an extremely tight budgetary environment.

I am particularly pleased that the conference agreement includes $75 million in assistance to Armenia and $3 million for Nagorno Karabagh. The conferees also agreed to maintain the military assistance parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan by approving $5 million in Foreign Military Financing, FMF, and $750,000 in International Military Education and Training, IMET, for both countries. Through these appropriations, the conferees have continued to advance the political and economic development of the Caucasus, while also increasing stability in the region.

I was also heartened to see that the conferees continued this country's longstanding support for our democratic ally Israel by providing $2.5 billion in assistance for Israel, including $2.3 billion for military grants, and $240 million in economic assistance.

At the same time, the Congress has wisely met the president's request for $150 million for development programs for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, $75 million more than the current level. Only by helping the Palestinian people to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness can we hope to realize the vision of a two-state solution to decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I believe that it is wise that our assistance to the Palestinians goes to private voluntary organizations (20 percent) or to contractors (80 percent), all of which are selected and monitored by USAID. While I hope that Abu Mazen will be able to end the corruption in the PA, I think that it is prudent that the U.S. forego direct transfers to the PA until there is greater transparency and accountability.

This has been a difficult year for our relationship with Egypt. Even as Cairo has proven a valuable partner in helping to facilitate the Israeli pullout from Gaza, the country's moves towards democracy have been halting. I think that this bill properly funds our priorities by appropriating $1.8 billion in aid for Egypt--$1.3 billion for military grants, and $495 million in economic assistance with $50 million of the economic assistance directed to programs that promote democracy and human rights, and $50 million be for education, including $5 million for scholarships for disadvantaged Egyptian students.

At a time when the United States is viewed with skepticism and outright hostility in many parts of the world, foreign assistance and disaster relief is one of the most effective ways to change negative views of our country. In the wake of the tsunami last December and the October 8 earthquake in Pakistan, the generosity of the American people has been a strong force for advancing our national interests abroad, even as we wrestled with the aftermath of a devastating series of hurricanes here at home.

As the Congress and the President begin to work on the Fiscal Year 2007 budget for foreign operations, I hope that we will remember that feeding the hungry, healing the sick and helping those left homeless by nature's fury can play an important role in making the United States more secure and more respected by the rest of the world.

Again, I thank my colleagues for their work on this important legislation and offer my wholehearted support.