The U.S. Export-Import Bank has postponed a vote on $500 million in loan guarantees for the Russian oil sector to Tuesday, giving Washington four more days to consider the controversial credit as it mulls a response to Russia's war in breakaway Chechnya.
The State Department, which has the power to order Ex-Im Bank not to lend, said it is examining the credit. The money would pay for U.S.-made equipment to modernize Russia's ailing energy sector.
"I'm not going to discuss what we are going to do on it," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright told a news conference yesterday. "The subject is obviously something that Ex-Im has in front of it. I have my people looking into it."
She said she did not know whether the issue would be discussed when foreign ministers from Russia and the west meet in Berlin.
Ex-Im Bank is an independent agency, but the administration can block a credit if it thinks the money might be used in a way that would endanger human rights or risk the environment.
The bank is under pressure from two sides to freeze the credit. Human rights groups want to curb U.S. involvement in Russia in response to the bloody campaign in rebel Chechnya, while some domestic firms are angry about the bankruptcy and takeover rulings for the Russian firms involved.
The bank said participants have met the loan guarantees' technical, financial and environmental conditions, and that the delay was for "scheduling reasons" because some board members were not able to attend a meeting.
A State Department official gave no clues on which way the decision might fall--a no vote could alienate Russia at a time of increasing international tension over Chechnya, while a yes vote could infuriate critics who say the West should press Russia to halt the war.
The loan package to be considered by Ex-Im Bank includes a $292 million loan to enable U.S. oil service giant Halliburton Co. to develop the Tyumen oil field and a separate $198 million credit for ABB Ltd unit ABB Lummus Global.