Israel to return $50 million in U.S. aid to help Jordan

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WASHINGTON — Israel has formally agreed to return $50 million in U.S. foreign aid so that the Clinton administration can reward Jordan for its support of the peace process.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced Tuesday that Israel and Egypt would each contribute $50 million to a new Middle East Peace and Stability Fund.

Jordan will receive the full $100 million this year, adding to the $47 million it already received this year from the United States.

The Clinton administration has asked Congress to allocate $75.6 million to Jordan for next year.

The one-time-only deal marks the first time that Israel has returned foreign aid to the United States for the benefit of another country.

In the late 1980s, Israel returned a very small portion of its economic assistance to the United States Treasury when Congress was trying to balance the books.

Under the current agreement, Israel will send $50 million to the United States from its current U.S. aid package.

The Clinton administration plans to ask Congress, not Israel and Egypt, to contribute to the fund in the future.

Israel receives $1.8 billion in annual military aid from the United States and $1.2 billion in economic aid. Other funding, including aid for refugee resettlement, brings the total to more than $3 billion annually.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emphasized that he supports the plan, and both Israeli and American officials have stressed that the U.S. request is not tied to the current impasse in the peace process or any tensions between Jerusalem and Washington.

"We support giving economic aid to Jordan. We see them as our neighbors, friends and partners. Not only are we interested in their well-being but we are willing to make a contribution to that goal," said an Israeli official in Washing-ton.

The plan, in the works for the last two months, was announced after President Clinton met with Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan here Tuesday.

"Jordan has become a model for the Middle East, and for the world, of a nation truly committed to peace and to building a new and better future for all peoples," Albright said before going into a private meeting with Hassan.

For his part, Hassan thanked Albright, expressing "our deepest appreciation for the efforts," he said.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, applauded the move, saying, "Israel's action is one more indication of its commitment to the peace process, and its recognition of the importance of supporting neighbors to go the extra mile for peace."