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THE WORLD FROM...Washington

Crumbling communism, an outlaw bank, and Middle East negotiations occupy returning Congress members

THIS week, after a summer recess, official Washington returns to its job of money and politics.The dramatic turn of world events, from the fall of communism to the exposure of the biggest banking scandal in history, left more White House staffers and congressmen working the phones during August than actually taking a break. As with the beginning of every presidential election year, the White House-Capitol Hill agenda is full. But this fall's issues are dominated by international issues, and they're very complex. United States policymakers, for example, don't even know how to refer to the crumbling Soviet empire (The Soviet disunion? The confederated republics?), much less how to assist its 281 million people with democratic and economic reforms. As winter approaches, reformed Communists appeal for Western aid to keep the people from starving and democracy on path. Food aid is widely regarded as a Band-Aid. But international bankers, concerned that Moscow's eroding power leaves it without financial accountability, fear that the country will repudiate its existing $65 billion external debt. The timing of communism's demise is propitious, since the West's largest intelligence agency is leaderless. Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates, the President Bush's choice as new Central Intelligence Agency director, will face tough confirmation hearings Sept. 16. Mr. Gates, former CIA deputy director, will be grilled on his purported lack of knowledge about the Iran-Contra affair. This fall, congressional investigators will doggedly pursue the CIA's relationship with the $20 billion Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), a Pakistani-run operation that financed the illegal drugs and arms trades and defrauded thousands of small depositors through a scheme spanning 70 countries. Years ago, Gates coined the phrase, "Bank of Crooks and Criminals International" for BCCI, while US federal authorities recoiled from investigating the bank's alleged influence peddling in US gover nment circles. Also mired in politics is a $10 billion Israeli request for US loan guarantees to finance the absorption of up to 1 million Soviet emigres to the Jewish state. Mr. Bush will likely link the Israeli government's unabashed settlement policy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Israeli request. The administration's priority seems to be the elusive international Middle East peace conference, a development Israeli settlements may be jeopardizing. Without a snag, US dollars seem to be advancing local and American interests elsewhere in the world. Washington just took care of more than half a billion dollars in unfinished business by forgiving more than $200 million in Jamaican debts and almost $400 million in Bolivian debts owed to the US government. It's part of the ongoing US Enterprise for the Americas Initiative, a debt-reduction and trade liberalization program for Caribbean, Central, and South American countries. The White House continues to look for new debt-relief candidates, as an improved economic climate south of the US border encourages investments and development in the region and boosts its purchasing power for US goods and services. But doling out fresh US dollars abroad is not likely to find much favor at home, given recent discouraging news that the US recession may be entering its second year and 6.8 percent of American workers remain jobless. Indeed, in this election year pressing domestic financial needs will compete with world demands.

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