President Bush is asking Congress to set up a $400 million fund to reward nations that have taken political and economic risks to join U.S.-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House announced the fund, dubbed the “solidarity initiative,” after Bush’s meeting Wednesday with Aleksander Kwasniewski, the president of Poland, a nation that is to receive one-fourth of the money.
The $400 million request is part of the $80 billion supplemental war funding request Bush will send to Congress next week.
“Poland has been a fantastic ally because the president and the people of Poland love freedom,” Bush said during his Oval Office meeting with Kwasniewski, a staunch ally in the Iraq war. “I know the people of your country must have been thrilled when the millions of people went to the polls” in Iraq.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the fund is indicative of the administration’s inability to attract more well-to-do nations to the coalition at the start of the conflict.
“It’s kind of a shame,” he said in a telephone interview. “The reason we’re having to do this is that we never reached out to those who have the ability and capacity to do this to begin with.”
He called the countries in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq “courageous” but said the administration had no choice but to offer them help because their societies and national budgets can’t afford the cost of being in Iraq for extended periods of time.
Poland has taken command of a multinational security force in central Iraq that currently includes about 6,000 troops – among them more than 2,400 Polish soldiers. Kwasniewski told reporters outside the White House that a reduction this month will leave Poland with 1,700 troops in Iraq, but he said the 700 other troops would remain ready in Poland to be immediately deployed to Iraq if needed.
Administration officials declined to say which other nations would benefit from the fund, partly designed to reward allies and coax them to stay in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Spain, Singapore, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Norway and Honduras have left the coalition.
One administration official said the fund was designed to provide help to Eastern European nations, such as Ukraine, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states. Bush is meeting March 9 at the White House with Traian Basescu, the president of Romania, which has an estimated 700 troops in Iraq.
“These funds … reflect the principle that an investment in a partner in freedom today will help ensure that America will stand united with stronger partners in the future,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement. “This assistance will support nations that have developed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other partners promoting freedom around the world.”
Kwasniewski declined to answer a question about whether the Polish people felt they had been adequately rewarded for their help in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
“If Iraq finally will be an independent, democratic state, that’s the highest reward we can expect,” Kwasniewski told reporters outside the White House.
In the Ukraine, Poland’s neighbor, newly elected President Viktor Yushchenko has said that he would not reverse outgoing President Leonid Kuchma’s decision to withdraw Ukraine’s estimated 1,650 troops in Iraq by the end of June. However, no final decision about Ukrainian troops has been announced. That was a topic of Vice President Dick Cheney’s meeting with Yushchenko last month in Krakow.
Since Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections, the administration has focused intently on attracting new support for Iraq.
Bush has spoken by phone with more than a dozen members of the coalition that have from 300 to several thousand troops in Iraq. On Wednesday, he called Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, which has about 500 troops in Iraq. “They agreed on the importance of continuing international support in Iraq while working to train and equip Iraqis to assume greater responsibility and ultimately provide for their own security,” McClellan said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he has appealed to all 26 allied nations to contribute more troops to help meet a goal of turning out 1,000 Iraqi security officers a year. He said it was his goal to have pledges of help from all nations by the time Bush visits Europe later this month.
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