Senate wants allies to pay or forgo arms Military sales linked to sharing costs of the gulf war WAR IN THE GULF

March 20, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Angry at allies who have paid less than half of what they pledged toward the cost of the Persian Gulf war, the Senate voted yesterday to ban military sales to any nation that doesn't pay up.

The provision was part of a bill setting aside $42.6 billion to pay for the war, including $15 billion from the U.S. Treasury. The bill passed, 98-1, with anti-war Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, R-Ore., voting "no." The House has passed similar legislation, and differences are expected to be resolved quickly.

The allies pledged $54.5 billion and had paid $25.6 billion -- 47 percent -- as of Monday, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- direct beneficiaries of the defeat of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's military machine -- are the slowest-paying of the major contributors.

As of Monday, Saudi Arabia had paid $6.1 billion of its $16.8 billion commitment; Kuwait, $5.5 billion of its $16 billion pledge; and the U.A.E., half of its $4 billion pledge.

Though Kuwait was devastated by the war, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. emerged largely undamaged and also benefited from last year's sharp increase in oil prices. The Saudi and Kuwaiti contributions to date amount to barely a third of their pledges.

"I do not recall any hesitation whatsoever on the part of the United States in deploying the heart and brains and muscle of our military establishment to the Saudi Arabian peninsula," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

"So it is more than a little disconcerting to see this kind of stalling by those countries whose defense we took up, no questions asked."

The other major contributors are Japan, which has paid $7.3 billion of its $10.7 billion commitment, and Germany, which has paid $4.6 billion of its $6.6 billion pledge. There were reports yesterday that the German government would seek a reduction of its pledge, but the Pentagon said that no such request had been received.

South Korea pledged $385 million and has delivered $71 million, or less than 20 percent.

All these countries are buyers of U.S. weapons and military services; most have purchases pending.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called the Senate arms sales provision unnecessary and said that there was no stalling by the allies, a comment repeated at the Pentagon by spokesman Pete Williams.

"I have no reason to believe that these nations will not fulfill their contributions," Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Fitzwater said he expected full payment of the $54.5 billion in foreign contributions, which he said would come "pretty close" to covering the cost of the war.

Congressional Budget Office Director Robert D. Reischauer has estimated the cost of the war at $45 billion, but it may be months before a final figure is available.

The $15 billion from the U.S. Treasury is supposed to serve as interim financing, while the allied contributions are received.

Any unused portion of the $15 billion would be returned to the Treasury. And any unused allied contributions would be returned to the donors.

"We're not going to make a profit on the war," said Mr. Fitzwater. "As a matter of policy, we won't permit that to happen."

The administration views its campaign to get the allies to defray the cost of the war as a huge success. White House officials say their original goal had been to get the allies to agree to split the cost of war, and now it seems that allies will pay most of it.

But lawmakers remain skeptical.

Mr. Byrd said that the true costs of the war were more than the sum of missiles fired, bombs dropped, planes and tanks lost.

"These numbers do not show the hundreds of billions of dollars hTC the United States has spent maintaining the only military establishment capable of meeting the threat of Saddam Hussein," he said.

"Nor do these numbers explain that building that military capability has diverted scarce dollars away from vital domestic needs."

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