JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the U.S. will review its aid to Pakistan after the country’s military ruler suspended the constitution.
Her announcement puts in question some of the billions in U.S. assistance to a close terrorism-fighting ally.
On a Mideast trip now overshadowed by the unfolding crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, Rice suggested that the Bush administration would not suspend aid wholesale.
The U.S. has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, made a strategic shift to ally with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission,” Rice told reporters traveling with her. “We just have to review the situation. But I would be very surprised if anyone wants the president to set aside or ignore” the responsibility to national security that can come through such cooperation, she said.
The top U.S. diplomat said she had not spoken directly with Musharraf since he announced what she called “extraconstitutional” moves on Saturday. In addition to suspending the constitution, he ousted the country’s top judge and deployed troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism.
“I’m disappointed in his decision, sure,” Rice said.
Biden weighs in
After hearing word of the U.S. review, Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I would be on the phone with Musharraf making it clear to him that there’s a price to pay if he does not rectify what he’s just done.”
After Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, the Pentagon said the declaration did not affect U.S. military support of Pakistan.
The review cited by Rice would look in part at whether some current aid cannot continue because of U.S. legal restrictions that set conditions for governments to receive money. That probably would cover only a small amount of the total aid, which now runs to about $150 million each month.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported in August that less than 10 percent of the aid bill since 2001 has paid for economic and social projects.
Rice promoted such assistance, particularly for education, when she told reporters that the U.S. has looked beyond Musharraf and made a choice to support what had seemed to be an increasingly democratic nation at a critical time.
“The United States did not put all its chips on Musharraf,” Rice said.
Biden, D-Del., said an aid review was appropriate, but that the administration has embraced policies that limit its options.
“I don’t that they have any notion of what they’re going to do right now,” he said. “This administration has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistan policy. It’s tied to Musharraf and it’s hands are pretty well tied right now,” said Biden, who is running for president in 2008.
“This is the most dangerous and complex relationship that we have and we have a huge stake ... in seeing to it that the moderate majority in Pakistan have a political outlet,” he added. “Absent that political outlet, what I worry about is they will join in league with the extremists,” citing what happened with Iran in 1979 when the shah was overthrown and an Islamic theocracy set up.
Speaking of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, Biden said “all these dots are connected” and the administration “doesn’t have a policy. It has a Musharraf policy but it doesn’t have a policy relative to Pakistan and how it affects everything else in the region.”
Biden also said, however, that he believes Musharraf’s military is in firm control of the country’s nuclear arsenal and does not think that is a cause for concern now.
The center’s report put U.S. aid for Pakistani schools at about $64 million.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, traveling in Asia, is closely monitoring the situation. “Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror,” his spokesman, Geoff Morrell told reporters Saturday aboard Gates’ plane on the trip to China.
Musharraf’s declaration “does not impact our military support of Pakistan” or its efforts in fighting terrorism, Morrell said.
U.S. has supplied military aid
U.S. officials led by Rice quickly urged a return to civilian rule and democracy after the state of emergency. The White House urged Musharraf to stand by his pledge to hold “free and fair” parliamentary elections in January.
The U.S. has been a leading supplier of military aid to Pakistan since it suspended penalties against the country in recognition of its support in the fight against terrorism after the 2001 attacks. Washington had placed the restrictions in 1990 after the discovery of Pakistan’s program to develop nuclear weapons.
Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup, had promised before his action Saturday to relinquish his army post and become a civilian president this year. The crucial parliamentary elections now could be delayed by up to a year.
Biden spoke on “Face the Nation” on CBS.
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