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Peru Balks at U.S. Plan Aimed at Reducing Cocaine Supply

By Douglas Jehl
Los Angeles Times

San Antonio, Texas

On the eve of a seven-nation drug meeting, Peru has refused to go along with a U.S.-backed plan calling for sharp reductions in cocaine supplies unless the United States provides more money for the counternarcotics fight, senior administration officials said Wednesday.

The demand puts President Bush in an awkward position because his administration is under attack by critics who say that the U.S. war on drugs already subsidizes Peruvian corruption and brutality.

With the White House signaling that Bush will not agree to President Alberto Fujimori's condition, the Peruvian stance appears almost certain to sweep away what was to have been the centerpiece of the meeting here.

The plan, introduced by Colombia and supported by the administration, called for the United States and six Latin American nations to agree to a 50 percent reduction in the supply and demand for drugs by the end of the century.

But with Fujimori complaining publicly Wednesday that it would be "unrealistic" to set goals under current U.S. funding levels, administration officials said that they had little hope that a declaration to be issued Thursday could include specific targets.

Although U.S. officials sought to downplay the potential for embarrassment, the last-minute squabble at the outset of the San Antonio meeting draws attention to what has been the U.S.-led campaign's most troublesome front.

Under fire for drug-war disappointments that have cast doubt on his pledge that "this scourge will end,'' Bush had hoped to inoculate himself against election-year criticism by portraying himself once again as leader of a noble cause.

Instead the meeting is likely to highlight the limits of a multinational effort and to give Latin leaders like Fujimori a forum for attempts to extract from Bush new pledges of costly -- and potentially unpopular -- new support.

In a private meeting between the two leaders, Bush assured Fujimori that he would urge Congress to release about $25 million in military aid to Peru that remains blocked on human rights grounds, administration officials said.

Against a new tide of concern that counternarcotics aid will find itself entwined with that government's brutal war against Sendero Luminoso guerrillas, however, it remained far from certain how hard Bush would be willing to pressure a resistant Congress.

And Fujimori, whose nation produces 60 percent of the world's coca supply, separately made clear that he expected military and economic assistance in volumes well beyond what the United States has promised and criticized in sharp terms an administration policy that he said expected too much.

"It is not possible to have goals if the finances are not assured,'' he said at a news conference here.

A U.S. official insisted that the administration "could take or leave" the specific target of a 50 percent drug-reduction goal that was to have been included in Thursday's declaration.

A senior administration official attributed Fujimori's intransigence to "special sensitivities" in a nation so dependent on the drug trade that promises of specific reductions could have severe political consequences.

Seeking to put the best light on what is expected to be a watered-down agreement, the senior official insisted that "this summit was never really about numbers."

But another high-level source acknowledged that the 50 percent target had been put forward by Colombia with U.S. backing and conceded that its rejection by Peru -- while it held the administration to blame -- could put the administration in an uncomfortable position.

Meeting Fujimori at the outset of the summit, President Bush vowed Wednesday that the nations involved would "redouble our efforts" and said that the session would help to secure "maximum cooperation." In addition to the United States, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, who participated in the original summit meeting, this session also includes the heads of state of Ecuador and Mexico.

The president of Venezuela, Carlos Andres Perez, was unable to attend because of domestic troubles in the wake of the recent coup attempt in his country, but has sent a representative.