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WASHINGTON — Still sore over international opposition to his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Trump pressed Congress in his first State of the Union on Tuesday to restrict foreign aid to “friends of America.”
Trump’s remarks, which drew loud applause in the packed House of Representatives chamber from most Republicans and stone-faced silence from most Democrats, could put the United States at odds with key allies who criticized his decision.
The president tied his call to action back to a Dec. 22 U.N. General Assembly vote in which 128 countries voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling on Washington to reverse its recognition of Jerusalem. He said some of those nations had collectively received $20 billion in U.S. assistance in 2016.
“That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America,” he said.
The international community rejected Trump’s Jerusalem decision because the city’s fate is considered one of the hardest “final status” issues in the Middle East peace process, to be decided by both parties. Israel has claimed the city as its capital, while the Palestinians see it as the capital of their hypothetical future state to be in East Jerusalem.
Enforcing Trump’s aid threat that would put the United States at odds with some of the largest recipients of U.S. economic and military assistance, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan, all of which voted in favor of the resolution. In the case of those countries, help from Washington is designed to advance U.S. interests, notably by ensuring the stability of their governments in the face of challenges from Islamist extremists. While Pakistan, for example, has driven several presidents to frustration and even anger, Washington has long been worried enough that the country’s nuclear arsenal could fall into extremist hands and has delivered assistance to the government in Islamabad.
In January, the Trump administration said it was suspending an unspecified amount of security assistance to Pakistan — perhaps as much as $1.3 billion, the total package — until that ally “takes decisive action” against extremists on its territory. Some of those groups have carried out attacks in Afghanistan, including some blamed for the deaths of U.S. soldiers.
The announcement came days after Trump denounced Pakistan on Twitter. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he said.
Trump also recently said his administration would cut aid to the Palestinians in retaliation for their decision to show their anger at his Jerusalem decision by snubbing Vice President Mike Pence during his recent trip to the Middle East.
“They disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them — and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support — tremendous numbers; numbers that nobody understands,” Trump said last week as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “That money is on the table, and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it was withholding $65 million of a $125 million aid package it had planned to send to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine. While the move seemed to be a response to the United Nations vote on Jerusalem, the State Department said the aid would remain frozen until the Palestinians enacted reforms. In response, 11 countries, including close U.S. ally Germany, pledged to step up to help fill the gap.
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