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Bush waives law forbidding U.S. aid to PLO

From Major Garrett
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Tuesday waived for six months a law that forbids U.S. aid from flowing to the Palestine Liberation Organization because it engages in acts of terrorism.

But for the first time in his presidency, Bush warned the Palestinians that future waivers are not "automatic" and told Congress he would grant future waivers only if the Palestinians moved aggressively to stop terrorist attacks in Israel.

This was the third waiver Bush has granted the PLO, a move the keeps U.S. aid flowing and allows the PLO to maintain offices in the nation's capital.

In his message to Congress, Bush said: "I hereby determine and certify that it is important to the national security interests of the United States to waive the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987."

A law forbids U.S. funding of the PLO because it was branded a terrorist organization and a threat to U.S. interests.

President Clinton first waived the prohibitions in October of 1999 and did so for six months.

The move signals that Bush is not prepared to withhold U.S. aid to the Palestinians as punishment for recent acts of terror committed in Israel. The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has branded Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a "terrorist" and shared with the White House evidence Israelis say suggest a strong linkage between Arafat and suicide bombings in Israel.

Some Republicans and Democrats in Congress have also called for an end to U.S. aid to the PLO in light of the suicide bombing attacks in Israel and Arafat's inability to restrain the suicide bombers and, in their view, the Palestinian leader's unwillingness to denounce them on radio or television in Arabic.

In his message to Congress, Bush also outlined specific steps Arafat and the Palestinian leadership had to take to qualify for another waiver in six months.

"The president has made it clear this waiver is not automatic," said the president's message to Congress, which was obtained by CNN. "Future waivers will take into consideration PLO compliance with its publicly stated commitments and its efforts to fulfill the conditions outlined by the president in his April 4 speech."

In that speech, Bush called on the Palestinian leadership to "do everything in their power to stop terrorist activities, to disrupt terrorist financing, and to stop inciting violence."

Administration officials said Bush added this language to mollify lawmakers eager to strip the Palestinians of all U.S. aid.

The State Department has said the government provides no "direct" aid to the Palestinian Authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization but Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, has said the United States sends about $75 million in aid annually to the Palestinian Authority, aid administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Cantor has also said Congress approved a three-year package of $400 million in aid for the Palestinian Authority in 2000. Cantor has introduced legislation ending all U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

U.S. direct aid to Israel exceeds $3 billion for 2002.




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