WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A House of Representatives committee voted on Thursday to cut off economic aid to any country that hosts Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and other crimes.
The provision is not yet law, and could change as foreign aid legislation moves through Congress this year. It was approved by the House Appropriations Committee as part of that legislation, which would slash spending on the U.S. State Department and foreign assistance by some 9 percent.
The legislation denies some aid the Obama administration sought for Pakistan, places conditions on some spending in Afghanistan and rejects a special fund that President Barack Obama wanted to set up for “Arab spring” countries.
It is likely to pass the Republican-majority House this summer, but the Democrat-run Senate has not yet weighed in with its foreign aid blueprint for fiscal 2013, which starts on October 1. The chambers must agree on the same version before the president, a Democrat, can sign it into law.
The House committee approved the amendment dealing with Bashir on a voice vote following an impassioned plea by Representative Frank Wolf, who declared that international isolation of Bashir would lead to his downfall.
“No one should allow this guy in - this is a moral issue,” declared Wolf, a Republican.
BASHIR IS WELL-TRAVELED
Some lawmakers warned of unintended consequences for U.S. policy. “We all agree that the situation in Sudan is deplorable, that President Bashir must be held accountable for his crimes,” Democratic Representative Nita Lowey said.
But in the last year and a half, Bashir has visited many countries including Ethiopia, China, Egypt, Chad, Malawi, Qatar, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, she said.
“My colleague’s amendment would cut off U.S. funding to all of these countries, some of them strategic allies,” had it already been in effect when the visits were made, Lowey said.
After Sudanese troops and militia fought a bloody campaign against a rebellion in the strife-torn western Darfur region, Bashir in 2009 became the world’s first sitting head of state to be indicted for crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Publicly reviled as a war criminal by campaigning Hollywood stars like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney, Bashir steadfastly rejects the charge that he is responsible for atrocities allegedly committed against local tribes by the Sudanese army and allied Janjaweed militia.
The House committee approved $48 billion for the U.S. State Department and foreign aid for fiscal 2013. That included about $8 billion for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
The panel axed $800 million the Obama administration sought for training and equipping the Pakistani military. It also put a hold on 15 percent of the State Department’s operational budget in Afghanistan until lawmakers get more details about how the department will keep its personnel safe there.
The committee rejected a $770 million boost Obama had requested for a new “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund” supporting long-term economic, political and trade reforms for countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
Republican Representative Kay Granger said lawmakers are stepping up oversight of aid to Egypt in particular. She said this was due to recent events that “tested” the U.S.-Egyptian relationship - an apparent reference to its crackdown on American democracy activists - and because “we do not know what stance the new Egyptian government will take toward the United States.”
Editing by Mohammad Zargham