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US House passes USD 643 bln defence bill

Washington: Defying the White House veto threat, the Republican-majority US House of Representatives has passed the USD 643 billion defence authorisation bill for 2013 that among other things calls for certain conditions for American aid to Pakistan.

The White House, in a statement this week, had said such conditions and certification regarding aid to Pakistan would be counter-productive.

The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2013, passed by the House ? 299 votes to 120 – yesterday now heads for a showdown with the Democrat-majority Senate. The NDAA imposes conditions on Pakistan for receiving economic and military aid from the US based on Islamabad`s action against terrorists and IEDs.

Among other things, it prohibits the preferential procurement of goods or services from Pakistan till Islamabad re-opens the crucial NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, which were closed in the aftermath of the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26 last year in a NATO cross-border fire.

The bill also calls for the construction of an East Coast missile defence system in the United States by the end of 2015 and has budgeted USD 100 million in this regard for next year.

The NDAA authorises USD 643 billion in spending for Department of Defence and overseas contingency operations, USD 8 billion above the spending caps in last year`s Budget Control Act (BCA) and USD 3.7 billion higher than the request made by President Barack Obama.

"This bill mandates fiscal responsibility within the Department of Defence, through sound fiscal stewardship, careful prioritisation of resources, and reforming the way the Pentagon interacts with the defence industrial base," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P `Buck` McKeon said.

House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price said the bill reflects a conscious effort to maintain strong alliances with friends like Israel, and it ensures "we do not underestimate" the threats emanating from nations like Iran and North Korea.

The bill also notes that the Taliban, Haqqanis and associated insurgents continue to enjoy safe havens in Pakistan, but are unlikely to be capable of overthrowing the Afghan Government unless the United States withdraws forces precipitously from Afghanistan.

Opposing many provisions of the defence bill, including conditions imposed on US aid to Pakistan, the White House had threatened to veto it if it impedes the ability of the government to execute the new American defence strategy.

"If the cumulative effects of the bill impede the ability of the administration to execute the new defence strategy and to properly direct scarce resources, the President`s senior advisors would recommend to the President that he veto the bill," an eight-page statement issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget had warned on Tuesday.

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