US AID Director Aims to Target Assistance, Boost Human Rights INTERVIEW

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NOW that the cold war has ended, President Clinton's new director of the $6.8 billion-a-year Agency for International Development - J. Brian Atwood - says he hopes to redirect America's third-world aid toward new targets: human rights, democracy, and what experts call "sustainable development" - a catch phrase that includes environmental protection and empowerment of the poor in the third world.

The AID budget debate on the floor of the House began Tuesday and continued yesterday with Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, calling the "leaner" foreign aid program a tool that is "cheaper" than the military in securing peace in the world.

This year, in a significant change in policy, AID's budget bill does not list the amount each nation will receive. A congressional aide said it was an attempt to stop "micromanagement" - the traditional congressional "earmarking," in which politically endowed countries get extra funding due to pressure by the State Department or key congressmen, regardless of their real needs or AID's desires.

For example, in 1993 the top 10 nations to receive AID funds did not include a single country in Africa, the poorest place on earth. Instead, the most money went to America's friends: Israel, Egypt, Peru, Nicaragua, Turkey, El Salvador, India, Bolivia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

And despite a promise to reform things, Mr. Atwood, in his first interview since his confirmation by the United States Senate, admitted that the lion's share of the AID budget - nearly one-third - will continue to go to Israel and Egypt - "not exactly a development decision" but one that "grew out of a commitment at Camp David" when President Jimmy Carter brokered a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Indeed, according to Andrew Natsios, former AID assistant administrator under Presidents Reagan and Bush, congressional earmarking as well as State Department priorities mean that "there is practically no money left in the AID budget that is discretionary."

Despite the effort to bar congressional micromanagement, the Foreign Affairs Committee's $9.678 billion authorization for foreign assistance, including AID's $6.8 billion, specifies that Israel will get $3 billion in economic and military aid; Egypt will get $2.15 billion; Russia and other former Soviet-bloc states will get $903 million; and Africa's aid will be raised from the $800 million requested by the administration to $900 million.

Mr. Atwood said he hopes to cut the number of countries getting aid from 108 to about 50. The list of those to be cut has not yet been delivered to Congress, according to a congressional staff aide. Atwood declined to identify them. He did say the selection process will be based on the new administration's criteria: "What is the {recipient} government doing to contribute to development? …