(CNSNews.com) – Requesting nearly $800 million to encourage political and economic reforms in the Arab-Islamic world, the State Department in its fiscal year 2013 budget request Monday identified 11 specific targets.
They include countries where transitions are underway after violent upheavals – even though uncertainties and concerns about future directions persist (Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen); countries and territories where reforms have been proposed and to various degrees implemented but existing regimes remain in place (Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Lebanon and the Palestinian self-ruled territories); a country embroiled in a civil war (Syria) and one whose government has shown no sign of meeting citizens’ demands for change (Iran).
The department’s budget request declares that, as a strategic goal by the end of FY2013, it will “support continued progress toward or lay the foundations for transitions to accountable electoral democracies in 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that respect civil and political liberties and human rights.”
The State Department is requesting $770 million – most of it “new money,” according to officials – for its proposed new Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund, which it says aims “to respond strategically to the historical changes taking place across the region.”
In a letter accompanying the budget request, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote that the fund would help the U.S. to “support citizens who have demanded change and governments that are working to deliver it. This ambitious fund is inspired by the courage and sacrifice of those seeking a better, freer future for the region and designed to help them realize their aspirations.”
While the fund will be focused primarily on supporting governments already committed to meaningful reform, it “will also allow us to respond to emerging opportunities to support early transitions so that nascent reforms can continue,” the budget document states. “Our response in 2011 to unfolding events demonstrated the need for funding in critical early periods.”
In 2011, the State Department had to scramble to find money to help support transitions in the region. Administration officials say it reallocated about $800 million in existing funds for that purpose.
“The Arab spring has come,” Thomas Nides, the department’s deputy secretary for management and resources, told a press briefing told a press briefing Monday. “We need to make sure we have the tools and the flexibility in which to fund these initiatives.”
“This is something we coordinated and talked a lot about with our friends on the Hill,” he said. Citing situations in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, he said “the world is evolving as we see it, and we felt it was important to have a pool of money.”
Among other things, the new fund aims to support political reforms, elections, democratic institutions, government transparency, “vibrant civil society” and open markets.
“To ensure that American taxpayer dollars deliver results, the fund will be primarily focused on
supporting governments that demonstrate a commitment to undertake meaningful political and economic reform,” the department said.
It warned that failure would “risk reinforcing public cynicism and losing influence in a region critical to U.S. interests.”
Success, on the other hand, would offer “a very real opportunity to help generate lasting stability, security, and prosperity that will provide a firmer foundation for the pursuit of U.S. strategic interests and will reduce the risk that future instability will require us to commit greater resources there in the long term.”
The administration’s total FY2013 request for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is $51.62 billion – roughly $800 million more than FY2012 levels.
The $51.6 billion includes $8.2 billion for so-called “Overseas Contingency Operations” – civilian-led programs and missions in Iraq ($4 billion), Afghanistan ($3.2 billion) and Pakistan $959 million).
“In the face of multiplying challenges, burgeoning needs, and increased responsibilities, State and USAID have limited our request to what is absolutely necessary to achieve our mission,” Clinton said in the letter. “We have requested a modest increase that is less than the rate of inflation.”
The requested $770 million for the proposed new “Arab spring” fund is separate from and in addition to bilateral economic and military assistance requested for some of those same 11 countries.
For instance, the “economic support fund” section of the budget request includes $370 million for the Palestinian areas, $360 million for Jordan, $250 million for Egypt, $70 million for Lebanon, $38 million for Yemen and $10 million for Tunisia.
The Foreign Military Financing (FMF) section of the request includes funding for Egypt ($1.3 billion), Jordan ($300 million), Lebanon ($75 million), Yemen ($20 million), Tunisia ($15 million), Bahrain ($10 million), Morocco ($8 million) and Libya ($150,000).
And the International Military Education and Training (IMET) section of the budget request includes programs aimed at enhancing military professionalism – totaling $18.9 million for the region but not broken down by recipient – for countries including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen.
Money for Egypt
During Monday’s briefing, Nides was asked about the requested sums for Egypt, given unhappiness in Congress over Cairo’s crackdown on U.S. and other foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
“Our goal is to provide them those funds,” he said in reference to the $1.3 billion in FMF and $250 million in economic aid. “I mean, it’s obviously clear to all of us that we have issues that we need to work through, and we are working very aggressively to do so. But this budget reflects our commitment and our desire to make – to fully fund those initiatives.”
Asked whether the administration expected any pushback from Congress over the assistance for Egypt, Nides replied, “I think the desire from the Hill and certainly from the administration is to resolve the issues that are currently occurring in Egypt.”
“And I think there’s bipartisan support, once we can get these issues resolved, is to support Egypt,” he continued. “I think there would be no argument on that, at least from where we sit.”
At a separate briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also fielded questions on the Egypt funding issue.
She pointed out that Clinton’s warnings that Egypt may be jeopardizing aid over the NGO prosecutions applied to funding for the current fiscal year, and expressed the hope that the dispute would be resolved before 2013. (Fiscal year 2013 begins in October 2012.)
“As the secretary has said with regard to 2012 – and let’s hope we’re still not in this situation in 2013 – we do have concerns that if we can’t resolve this situation, it could have implications for the whole relationship with Egypt, including what we would like to do together and how we would like to support them,” Nuland said.
U.S. law signed last December makes FY2012 aid to Egypt contingent on certification that the government “is supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.”