In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, the White House previewed President Obama's speech on the Middle East and North Africa but refused to address any elements of the speech that were not strictly related to the president's planned economic policy in the region.
One item White House put forth on the economic front was that the United States can cancel debts from Egypt's past to help the country financially, and a senior administration official estimated the debt swap would add up to a billion over a few years.
"We anticipate that the debt swap, both relief of debt and the investments that would ensue, would amount to roughly $1 billion over a few years, and that the loan guarantees would support roughly an additional billion," the official said.
Though very light on details during the call, the White House said it is going begin a series of initiatives to support the economies in Egypt and Tunisia since they perceive the countries transitioning to a more democratic role. This includes support for better economic management by projects like contributing to economic policy making, helping economic stability, support for economic modernization and reform, and a framework for trade integration and investment.
Some of this will take place through multilateral institutions, such as the IMF. But since the United States is the largest contributor to the IMF, it's safe to say that taxpayers suffering enough at home from a poor economy are also now going to be contributing to Egypt and Tunisia's economy, too.
The White House was also vague when questioned about specific oversight to make sure these programs don't become fodder for corruption in the region, referencing a broad anti-corruption agenda by the administration and saying that the U.S. has made real traction internationally on that through its work with other organizations.
"I think in this regard, I think we’ll be doing a number of programs as part of our overall effort on anti-corruption and be working with countries in the region to ensure that new governments there are taking this -- are taking this seriously," a senior administration official said."But I would only note that it’s part of a global effort that we’re doing on open government transparency and anti-corruption".
Another senior administration official added, "These funds, these programs will be available in the context of overall economic reform programs put forward by the Egyptian and the Tunisian governments, and of course both the multilateral development banks, and we will expect, and I believe, the governments will want to use those reform programs to put in place very strong safeguards against corruption and also to ensure that the licensing process is much fairer. ... So we will be looking for these additional support mechanisms to be put forward in the context of deep economic governance reforms."
There's a rather major problem, however -- though a senior administration official called Egypt and Tunisia a "beacon" in the region, Egypt's recent upheaving led to the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood seizing control. Putting U.S. taxpayers' money in the Brotherhood's hands -- even for Egypt's economic purposes -- is basically like asking the American people to fund the jihad against themselves.
The White House did not respond to a follow-up question about safeguards on making sure the money is not used by the Muslim Brotherhood for anti-American purposes. It also did not respond to how much of a total price tag these economic initiatives will cost the American people.
The economic issues of the speech, however, may take a back seat to some of the other policy suggestions the president makes tomorrow. A foreign news agency is reporting the president will call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders and having Israel and Palestine split the city of Jerusalem, but White House senior administration officials were not taking any questions unrelated to the economic plans on the call.
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