Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman predicts House will cut all aid to Pakistan

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) predicted the lower chamber would withhold all U.S. assistance to Pakistan at some point.

Such a move reflects ongoing questions about the strength of U.S.-Pakistani relations, given the discovery of Osama bin Laden deep in Pakistan's territory earlier this year.

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"We're all skeptical of the aid that we've given to Pakistan, that it's been used in the right way," Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill this week. "We look at Pakistan in a way that says, what have we done with all of that money? Everything that we've sold to Pakistan, all the intelligence we shared with Pakistan, it's all been called into question.

"So it's a brand new day for Pakistan funding, and it's a brand new day for U.S.-Pakistani relations," she added.

In July, the Obama administration withheld $800 million in aid to Pakistan's military as a way of showing its displeasure with the discovery of bin Laden in Pakistan, and so close to a major military training school. However, Ros-Lehtinen said she expects the House to ultimately approve language withholding nearly $2 billion in assistance.

Ros-Lehtinen's committee has already approved a State Department authorization bill, H.R. 2583, that would withhold funding to Pakistan until State submits a report confirming the Pakistani government is making progress toward certain security goals and is fully assisting the U.S. in investigating bin Laden's support network in Pakistan.

This bill has yet to be approved by the House and the fall schedule is unclear for various reasons, including ongoing talks over FY 2012 spending levels. Nonetheless, Ros-Lehtinen said that "when the final vote comes, those conditions [on Pakistan] will be incorporated, and they are pretty tough conditions."

Pakistan is one of the major issues on which Ros-Lehtinen has been looking to hold oversight hearings, along with ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said her committee still has an outstanding request to hear testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on these "big ticket items," after Clinton's planned testimony over the summer had to be postponed.

"It remains an extremely important topic for the American people and for members of our committee, so I greatly hope and am optimistic that the secretary will be able to come and testify on these issues before our committee," she said. She added that it has been hard for her committee to get Obama administration witnesses in general.

"If we could only get administration witnesses, that would surely be helpful," she said. "They're scattering to the winds. I don't know where they are. Do we have an administration? If so, they don't like to come too often to our hearings, and I sure would like for them to be there."

She noted her committee is hoping to hear testimony from Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns on Oct. 14 on Iran and Syria, which would set the table for consideration of new sanctions legislation against those countries. However, she said Burns's scheduled appearance is still "tentative."

"We hope that Secretary Burns will be there, and that's just my nudge," she quipped.

Regardless of whether Burns participates in that hearing, Ros-Lehtinen said her committee is planning an Oct. 26 markup of three sanctions bills — the Iran Threat Reduction Act (H.R. 1905), the Syria Freedom Support Act (H.R. 2106), and the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Reform and Modernization Act (H.R. 2015).

Each of these bills would tighten sanctions against the named countries; the chairwoman predicted easy House passage of the Iran bill in particular, which has 285 House co-sponsors and follows quick passage of an Iran sanctions bill in 2010, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act.

"The issue has only gotten worse," she said of Iran. The new Iran bill builds on last year's sanctions bill by including new sanctions against entities that support Iran's ability to develop its petroleum resources, and broadens the type of sanctions that can be used against these entities.

Ros-Lehtinen also repeated a call that many supporters of sanctions legislation make — that existing sanctions laws are fully implemented. The lack of implementation of various sanctions laws over several administrations is partly what has driven Congress to strengthen these laws.

"Yes, we're going to push sanctions legislation, but it's only effective if the Obama administration implements it, and if it's enforced," she said.

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