The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has postponed action on the CIA's 1991 covert action budget, sources said, after President Bush sought the delay because "sensitive negotiations" are underway that could affect Angola, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.
Covert aid to anti-government forces in those countries is an increasingly controversial issue between Congress and the administration.
Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, told members of the budget subcommittee, which he also heads, that he had agreed to the postponement after a telephone call from the White House.
Subcommittee members approved legislation on the rest of a 1991 authorization bill, estimated at about $30 billion for the U.S. intelligence community, and agreed not to take up the covert action portion until September.
The administration has been seeking about $50 million in military aid for Jonas Savimbi's rebel army, UNITA, in Angola and about $10 million in covert military training and supplies for the non-communist resistance forces in Cambodia. Afghanistan aid reportedly cost between $300 million and $400 million in fiscal 1990.
One source said U.S. aid to UNITA this year was recently boosted from $50 million to nearly $80 million as the result of a reprogramming of CIA funds. Soviet military aid to Angola last year has been estimated by the United States at $800 million.
A State Department team is scheduled to visit Luanda this weekend to discuss food shipments for drought victims in Angola.
Administration officials also believe there may be agreement soon to resolve the 11-year-old war in Afghanistan.
The administration abruptly shifted gears in its policy on Cambodia this week, ending recognition of the rebel coalition and seeking to begin talks with Hanoi. That shift was made to stem the erosion of congressional support, especially in the Senate, for aid to non-communist groups and to avert a takeover by the Khmer Rouge. More than a million Cambodians died during Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1978.
State Department officials, appearing yesterday before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, were sharply criticized for continuing to ask for aid for two non-communist groups fighting the Vietnamese-installed regime in Phnom Penh. Those groups are in a coalition with the Khmer Rouge, and a bipartisan group of senators argued at the hearing that aid to them, along with a strictly enforced economic embargo on the country, only serves to help the Khmer Rouge.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate intelligence panel, said the administration should "forge a coalition between the Phnom Penh government and the non-communists" to fight the Khmer Rouge.
But Assistant Secretary of State Richard H. Solomon told the committee that the administration was still committed to funding the noncommunist groups, even while they are allied with the Khmer Rouge.
Yesterday, Secretary of State James A. Baker III asked Japan, which strongly supported the U.S. policy shift, to help reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Baker, in a meeting with a delegation of 11 senior Japanese Diet members, asked former finance minister Kiichi Miayazawa to encourage the Chinese government -- main backers of the Khmer Rouge -- to put pressure on its leaders to be more cooperative.
Japanese officials said Miayazawa agreed to do so when he meets next week with Chinese officials to discuss the $5.4 billion Japanese loan program that was suspended after the Chinese crackdown last year.