Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Taxpayers Pay High Price for Mideast Peace Billions in US Aid Go to Israel's Neighbors, but Some May Have Trouble Paying Back

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Taxpayers Pay High Price for Mideast Peace Billions in US Aid Go to Israel's Neighbors, but Some May Have Trouble Paying Back

Article excerpt

FOR a pipefitter in Texas or a farmer in Iowa, the Middle East peace process is as close as their pocketbook.

While the United States steps up its efforts to secure peace in the region, the price tag for the taxpayer is climbing because of the negotiation. Consider just one number: Expenses for US military operations in the Gulf will amount to $500 million in the first 60 days.

White House policymakers, intent on championing Arab-Israeli ties, curbing Iraqi aggression, and securing a foreign-policy success, assume the efforts are well worth the price, even if it takes a high toll on American wallets.

As President Clinton travels through the Middle East this week to survey the challenges for US intervention, his advisers back home are vexed by mounting charges for existing US military operations in the Gulf and how to collect on $20 billion in Gulf Arab debts to US defense contractors.

They must also contend with the most recent Middle East financial demand - a wish-list that came from Jordan's King Hussein last week: $36 billion in financial and military aid.

Like his Arab predecessors, the Egyptians and the Palestinians, the Jordanian monarch expects a monetary reward for his role in signing a peace treaty with Israel. While Amman's request is unrealistically high, a top State Department official says, Washington is under pressure to deliver something.

There is a compelling reason to do so, say strategic experts. Jordan's treaty with Israel does more than end decades of hostility between the two nations. It exacts a major concession from the Hashemite Kingdom - clipping Jordan's sovereignty by preventing it from housing foreign troops on its soil.

"This provision will effectively move Israel's border by 200 to 300 kilometers to the east" and block Arab military dispatches through Jordan and the West Bank, says a Washington-based Middle East consultant. "This adds a crucial dimension to its security."

If Jordan evolves into a committed Israeli partner, he says, buttressing Jordan's defensive capacity could help obviate the need for $3 billion in annual US economic and military aid to Israel.

The State Department official predicts Israel will undoubtedly provide air cover over the area - no matter what Jordan acquires - and Jordan's scaled-down reward for the peace treaty will include fighter jets.

This week US Pentagon officials are in Saudi Arabia to confront one more potential budgetary burden: tens of billions of dollars' worth of US-government guaranteed Saudi military orders from US defense suppliers. …

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