President Bush is expected to launch an "economic action plan" under which wealthy U.S. allies agree to share the cost of the U.S. military deployment to the Persian Gulf and to help ease the financial pain to key countries participating in the trade embargo against Iraq, administration officials said.
The plan, which could total as much as $23 billion in donor aid in the first year, half of which would be paid to the United States, was reviewed by Bush during a National Security Council meeting yesterday. It could be implemented as early as today, one senior administration official said.
In one sign that donor nations are signing up, Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu announced his country's participation yesterday in a nationally televised address. Bush had talked to Kaifu by telephone earlier in the day.
It could not be determined which other countries have firmly committed to the plan, although officials expect Germany, Saudi Arabia and the exiled Kuwaiti government to participate.
The plan would be the first significant step by the administration to get the rest of the world to help pay the bill for one of the largest military operations since World War II, designed to defend Saudi Arabia and to enforce the United Nations trade embargo against Iraq with a naval blockade. It would also prevent economic breakdown or possible cheating in other countries -- particularly in the Middle East -- hard pressed by the cessation of trade with Iraq and occupied Kuwait.
The Pentagon this week said the cost of the U.S. deployment was running at a rate of $46 million a day, or $2.5 billion by Sept. 30.
This "burden-sharing" drive by the White House follows increasingly vocal advice from members of Congress that the U.S. mission in the Persian Gulf will lose popular political support unless Europe and Japan, which depend heavily on Persian Gulf oil, share the cost of defending Saudi Arabia.
Members of Congress returning from their districts to meet Tuesday with Bush said they were beginning to hear complaints from constituents that U.S. soldiers might be called upon to die in defense of Arab oil shipped primarily to Asia and Europe.
Under the terms of the draft prepared for yesterday's National Security Council meeting, wealthy nations would commit at least $1.1 billion a month to help cover the cost of the U.S. defense of Saudi Arabia. And they would also contribute to a pool of at least $10 billion for distribution to Iraq's neighbors and other nations severely affected by the U.N. embargo.
Japanese government officials said Japan will contribute $1 billion, Washington Post foreign correspondent T.R. Reid reported from Tokyo. The U.S. draft plan calls for Tokyo to pay at least $1.3 billion into the donor pool, and an additional $60 million a month toward the "monthly incremental costs of U.S. defense expenditures." Saudi Arabia and the exiled Kuwaiti government -- much of whose assets are outside Kuwait -- would pay the largest amount, $7 billion for donor aid and $900 million a month for U.S. defense forces.
One U.S. official described the plan as a "multilateral approach by a number of donor nations in an effort coordinated by the United States to provide to front-line countries and to others involved the assistance they need to ensure they can continue to support the embargo."
The senior administration official said the plan allows Japan, Germany and other European and Arab donors to "show some responsibility" by helping countries that are making big sacrifices by cutting off trade with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"It's very important to demonstrate we are going to be responsive to their needs," he said, adding, "One of the reasons this is a critical thing to do is to ensure a continuing squeeze on Saddam."
One U.S. official who saw the four-page memorandum to the president outlining the plan said it included a country-by-country summary of donor nation commitments that were under discussion and a country-by-country resume of recipient nation needs. It was not clear whether the aid figures had the final approval of the foreign governments, but Kaifu's announcement in Tokyo was an indication that some may be final.
Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended that Jordan, Egypt and Turkey be singled out for special and more urgent assistance because of their key contributions to enforcing the embargo.
In Jordan's case, however, the provision of aid would be preceded by a strong diplomatic demarche to King Hussein calling on him to "get on board or forget it," as one senior official put it. Concern about "leakage" of embargoed goods through Jordan to Iraq remains high in the White House and the State Department, and has added to growing Saudi resentment over Jordan's continuing close ties with Baghdad.
Sources said the demarche would require Jordan to cut all military-to-military ties to Iraq and to reaffirm its commitment to block Iraq-bound commercial traffic from passing through the Jordanian port of Aqaba or on Jordan's highways.
Jordan also stands to gain or lose an additional $20 million earmarked for Amman in this year's U.S. defense appropriations bill, but the money has yet to be released. Some members of Congress want to block the money if Jordan does not strongly support the embargo.
In Egypt's case, the Pentagon was said to have recommended that the United States forgive most or all of the $7.1 billion military debt Cairo owes Washington for converting its military from Soviet-made weapons to American-made weapons. The debt forgiveness would require congressional approval.
A week ago, Congress agreed to a Pentagon request to reprogram $50 million in cash to be given to Egypt in recognition of Cairo's support to the U.S. deployment.
White House deputy press secretary Roman Popadiuk yesterday rejected any suggestion that Arab and other foreign aid to the United States put the U.S. military forces in a "mercenary" position. "It's a multinational cooperative effort," Popadiuk said, "We have about 22 countries that are involved in this in terms of military assistance to the defense of Saudi Arabia. We have a strong commitment by the United States for that defense."
The Pentagon also yesterday confirmed a Washington Post report that the president has approved the purchase of additional weapons by Saudi Arabia. A Pentagon statement said an initial package of 24 F-15 fighters, 150 M-60 tanks and 200 Stinger missiles had been approved, along with other missiles and weapons totaling $2.2 billion.
But administration officials said that a second Saudi weapons package, which would push the total to $6 billion to $8 billion, has been approved and will be announced later. This package calls for the delivery of 24 more F-15s after the first of the year, along with M-1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, a naval command and control system, tank recovery vehicles and a host of artillery, munitions and other weapons.