VACILLATION ON IDA

UNCLE SAM'S EMPTY POCKETS increasingly are weakening America's influence on the international scene. Nowhere is that more evident than with regard to the International Development Association, the World Bank affiliate that lends to the world's poorest, least creditworthy countries. Over the past year, the United States has avoided any commitments when it comes to increasing the IDA's resources. At a meeting now under way in Japan, the Bush administration's continuing vacillation is endangering America's stature in the developing world.

The United States has long been among the IDA's strongest supporters, and Washington exercises substantial control over the organization's operation. And there is no doubt that the IDA serves U.S. interests. It sends aid to nations that may be too poor even to qualify for regular World Bank loans, providing a key source of funds for food, health care and education. By

helping sustain cash economies, it assures markets for goods from the developed world.But when it comes to kicking in money to help the IDA's lending keep up with inflation, the administration hasn't been able to make up its mind. Politically, it's a winner: The IDA, which loaned out $4.9 billion over the last fiscal year, enjoys far stronger congressional support than World Bank programs for middle-income countries. But upping the U.S. contribution by about $100 million a year means increasing the federal budget deficit by the same amount.

The Treasury is willing to do that, but the Office of Management and Budget says no. So far, President Bush has been unwilling to resolve the matter.

Fourteen months ago, at the 1988 World Bank annual meeting in Berlin, IDA donors agreed to decide on replenishing the agency's resources by September 1989. World Bank President Barber Conable has proposed $14.5 billion over three years, of which the U.S. share would be $1.05 billion annually, up slightly from the current level. But at September's World Bank meeting in Washington, the United States managed to gain a two-month postponement. On Thursday, at the meeting of IDA donors in Japan that was supposed to resolve the issue, U.S. delegates still were unable to state Washington's position.

The other major donor nations view the IDA as a U.S. problem. The European Community has served notice that if Washington dithers, it will do its share for the world's poorest by increasing direct aid to former European colonies. Japan, the other major IDA donor, would be happier spending its money on the Asian Development Bank than subsidizing far-off Africa. Either move would diminish U.S. influence and weaken a multilateral institution the United States has supported for decades.

The United States cannot turn its back either on its moral obligation to assist poor nations or its responsibility for exercising international leadership. There is no excuse for postponing a decision on the IDA once more.

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