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August 13th, 2020
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Clinton Signs $435 Million Debt Relief

Posted on Wednesday, November 08 @ 03:49:01 UTC by Macphisto

Invoking Pope John Paul II and rock star Bono, President Clinton signed legislation today that sets aside $435 million to ease the debt of 33 of the world`s poorest countries.

Clinton has made third world debt relief a priority in his final term, one that he said he hopes will be a "priority in our foreign policy for a long time to come, no less important than promoting trade, investment and financial stability."

The provision is part of the $14.9 billion foreign aid bill that also includes increased military aid for Israel, $100 million for the new Serbian government and $300 million to fight AIDS around the world, and lifts a ban on U.S. assistance for overseas family-planning groups that advocate or participate in abortions.

"Our nation is taking this important step today because we understand that making the global economy work for everyone is not a political nicety but an economic, strategic and moral necessity," he said in an East Room ceremony attended by congressional members from both parties who had pushed for the legislation.

He hailed the remarkable array of advocates who for more than a year have pressed for debt relief – evangelists and economists, Democrats and Republicans, nongovernmental organizations, labor unions, the business community, advocates for Africa, rock stars and leaders of the Christian right.

The pope, he noted, called for debt forgiveness in 2000, the Jubilee year. The United States made the issue a centerpiece of the G-8 summit of industrialized nations in Cologne, Germany, last year. In an unusual meeting at the White House, Bono of the rock group U2, Christian evangelist Pat Robertson as well as other religious leaders and about a dozen Democratic and Republican members of Congress got together to urge Congress to pass the debt relief legislation.

"When we get the pope and the pop stars all singing on the same sheet of music, our voices do carry to the heavens," Clinton said.

The money represents the second payment of the United States` share of $920 million in the international debt relief initiative. With that contribution, the International Monetary Fund expects to meet its goal of providing 20 of the world`s poorest countries with debt relief by Dec. 31, officials said.

The legislation also allows the IMF to release $800 million from the sale of its gold reserves for additional debt forgiveness.

"By lifting the weakest, poorest among us, we lift all the rest of us as well," he said. "I believe that this will put our country squarely on the side of humanity for a very, very long time to come." The total initiative costs $28 billion and would relieve more than $50 billion worth of debt owed by 33 countries. So far, 11 countries have received relief worth $19 billion under the program. The money relieves the countries of interest payments that can then be used to improve education or health care.

Clinton noted that already, because of the initiative, Mozambique is buying medicines for government clinics and Uganda has doubled its primary school enrollment. "Global poverty is a moral affront, and confronting the challenge is simply the right thing to do," he said.

The president singled out Bono for praise, recounting how one day Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who had just met the singer, asked Clinton, "You know, some guy just came in to see me in jeans and t-shirt, and he just had one name, but he sure was smart. Do you know anything about him?"

"So Bono has advanced the cultural awareness of the American political establishment, embracing everyone from Larry Summers to Jesse Helms!" Clinton said.

He noted that one of U2`s biggest hits is "I Still Haven`t Found What I`m Looking For." With the signing of the bill promoted by a diverse, bipartisan coalition, Clinton said, "We`ve found what we`re looking for, and we need to build on it."

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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