Republicans renew assault on foreign aid

The meagre results of President Bill Clinton's Moscow summit, predictably panned by his political opponents here, will give further ammunition to Republicans in their efforts to slash US aid to Russia, part of a concerted assault on all non-military US spending abroad.

As the post-mortems piled up, scarcely a good word was to be heard for the meeting, beyond the odd assertion that at least the two countries were talking to each other. For the rest, it was a shrill chorus of Republican denunciations of Mr Clinton's failure to defend US interests - from Senator Mitch McConnell of the Foreign Relations Committee, who called the trip "an embarrassment", to the influential conservative columnist William Safire, who accused the President of being duped by the Russians over Iran and Chechnya, and having "humiliated the American people".

Most ominous was the warning by Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader and frontrunner for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, that the Senate would now carry out a basic "reassessment" of policy towards Russia, and that aid programmes would inevitably be "reviewed".

In fact Washington's direct bilateral aid is the pittance of $260m (£167m) for the 1996 fiscal year, far less than what Moscow could earn from selling its contested nuclear equipment to Tehran, and much of it directed to nuclear power station security, crime fighting and other fields from which the US stands to gain. But such considerations will not lessen the zeal of the budget-cutters, only too aware that foreign aid is among the least popular items of federal spending.

In their blueprint to balance the federal budget within seven years, approved by the Budget Committee yesterday, House Republicans want to slash funding for the State Department, which includes aid, from $18.9bn to only $10.7bn by 2002.

That implies a draconian cut in aid programmes, in which states of the former Soviet Union - notably Russia and Ukraine - are the biggest recipients after Israel and Egypt. However, Republicans say that separate spending to help the dismantling of Soviet-era nuclear weapons in the hands of Russia and Ukraine would not be affected.

Under the House plan, the US Information Agency would simply disappear. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Agency for International Development, through which most US foreign aid is channelled, would be merged into the State Department. Spending on the Peace Corps would also be curtailed.