White House rejects talk of war profit

March 27, 1991|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The White House attempted yesterday to put to rest claims that the United States could make a profit on the unexpectedly brief Persian Gulf war, asserting that the military operation would cost considerably more than the $54.5 billion allies have pledged to contribute.

"The cost will be greater than these contributions, there's no question about that," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "The United States is going to bear by far the greatest cost of this conflict."

Mr. Fitzwater offered no further accounting of the war costs, saying final figures had not been tallied. But he was determined to rebut suggestions that there might be money left over after the bills for the quick and decisive conflict with Iraq are paid.

President Bush delivered a similar message yesterday to German Finance Minister Theodor Waigel, who had come to Washington with a mission of winning a partial rebate of Germany's $6.5 billion contribution if the money turned out not to be needed.

"I'm afraid it's not going to be any cheaper . . . than original estimates," Mr. Bush said at the beginning of an Oval Office session with Mr. Waigel.

The finance minister said later that he had pressed for assurances that "extraneous costs" would be "kept out of the accounting," but he acknowledged that any discussion of a rebate at this point was "premature."

Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress earlier this year that the war might cost $60 billion to $65 billion.

Congress approved a U.S. share of $15 billion, and the Bush administration won promises of $54.5 billion from its allies in the anti-Iraq coalition, with the most generous shares coming from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Japan and Germany, neither of which contributed armed forces to the conflict, were next on the list of major donors.

But government critics in Germany and Japan have raised questions about whether those donations are still justified in the wake of new estimates -- including some from congressional budget analysts -- that put the allied war cost as low as $40 billion.

Last week, Mr. Fitzwater tried to dismiss such questions by declaring that the United States would not make a profit on the war as a matter of policy.

If the allied contributions exceeded the cost, he said, the excess would be given back.

Yesterday, with Germany standing in line to accept that offer, Mr. Fitzwater insisted that there would be no money left over.

"The cost of the war will be greater by a considerable amount," he told reporters.

Mr. Fitzwater would not commit himself on whether the U.S. appropriation of $15 billion would still be needed.

As a practical matter, though, the war cost to the United States can easily be said to be considerably higher than whatever is spent on the effort this year because of continuing expenses, such as veterans' benefits.

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