Congress clears $95bn aid package for Ukraine and Israel

Author: Editors Desk, By Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington Share Source: BBC News:
April 24, 2024 at 05:30
It took some six months for Congress to pass additional aid to Ukraine. EPA-EFE
It took some six months for Congress to pass additional aid to Ukraine. EPA-EFE

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the legislation into law on Wednesday.

The Senate on Tuesday evening backed the measure passed by the US House of Representatives on Saturday.

It includes $61bn in military aid for Ukraine, which the Pentagon says can start being delivered to the war-torn nation "within days".

It passed in a bipartisan vote of 79-18.

Mr Biden hailed its passage in a statement late on Tuesday, calling it "critical legislation [that] will make our nation and world more secure as we support our friends who are defending themselves against terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin".

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said: "After more than six months of hard work and many twists and turns in the road, America sends a message to the entire world: we will not turn our back on you."

Reacting to the vote, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it "reinforces America's role as a beacon of democracy and leader of the free world".

The Senate passed a similar aid package in February, but a group of conservatives who oppose new Ukraine support had prevented it from coming to a vote in the House of Representatives.

Last week, Democrats and Republicans in the lower chamber joined together to bypass this opposition.

They ultimately agreed to a package bill that included the foreign aid as well as legislation to confiscate Russian assets held by Western banks; new sanctions on Russia, Iran and China; and a provision that will force the Chinese company ByteDance to sell the popular social media service TikTok.

In the House on Saturday, a majority of Republicans in the chamber voted against the foreign aid package.

The bill also faced resistance among a handful of Senate Republicans who opposed any new aid to Ukraine.

Fifteen voted with two Democrats - as well as independent Senator Bernie Sanders who objected to providing new offensive weapons to Israel - against the bill.

"Pouring more money into Ukraine's coffers will only prolong the conflict and lead to more loss of life," Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville said in remarks on Tuesday.

"No one at the White House, the Pentagon, or the state department can articulate what victory looks like in this fight."

The aid package is expected to provide a significant boost to Ukraine's forces, which have suffered from a shortage of ammunition and air defence systems in recent months.

On Tuesday, Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv, faced the latest in a series of recent drone and missile strikes, with authorities saying two people in a residential neighbourhood were injured.

The commander of Ukraine's National Guard, Oleksandr Pivnenko, said he was expecting an attempt by Russian forces to advance on the city, which is near the Russian border.

 

Aid for Israel and Taiwan

The foreign aid package passed on Tuesday also allocates $17bn to Israel, as well as $9bn for civilians suffering in conflict zones around the world, including Palestinians in Gaza.

A further $8bn has been earmarked for allies in the Asia-Pacific, including Taiwan, to "counter communist China".

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz reacted to the vote by thanking congressional leaders for their "unwavering commitment to Israel's security".

"Israel and the United States stand together in the fight against terrorism, defending democracy and our shared values," he said.

A Chinese government spokeswoman called the military aid for Taiwan a "serious violation of the one-China principle" that would "send the wrong signal to the pro-independence separatist forces" in Taiwan.

"We urge the US to take practical actions to fulfil its commitment not to support Taiwan independence by not arming Taiwan in any way," she said.

Taiwan's incoming President William Lai said the aid package would "strengthen deterrence against authoritarianism".

Taiwan is a self-governing island and considers itself distinct from China, but Beijing views it as a breakaway province and hopes to bring it back under its own control.

 

TikTok ban

The national security package also includes a provision that could lead to a nationwide ban on TikTok.

The popular social media app's China-based parent company has nine months to sell its stake and find a US-approved buyer or see TikTok shut down across the US.

The statute gives the US president the option of extending the deadline by an additional 90 days, which means the latest the ban could take effect is nearly a year from now.

The TikTok provision drew bipartisan support, with lawmakers arguing that the Chinese government could invoke security laws to compel ByteDance to hand over data about the app's estimated 170 million US users.

TikTok has repeatedly said it has not provided, and would not provide, its foreign user data to the Chinese government.

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