WASHINGTON Colombia's rejection of a deal to end 52 years of civil war will not end U.S. plans to send significant aid next year, although it might prompt lawmakers to keep back some of the $450 million that had been expected, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
While spending plans for fiscal 2017 will not be final until late this year, the Senate and House of Representatives had been expected to approve $400 million in development aid, and roughly $50 million in counternarcotics assistance for Colombia for the year ending on Sept. 30, 2017.
That money was viewed as a way to support the Colombian peace process, and boost a country seen as an essential U.S. ally in Latin America by both Democrats and Republicans.
U.S. support for Colombia is expected to remain strong, although Congress could reduce the appropriation if renewed peace efforts go badly, the aides said.
Colombia's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Marxist guerrilla group went back to the drawing board in Havana on Tuesday after the peace deal they negotiated over four years was narrowly rejected as too lenient on the rebels in a referendum on Sunday. [L2N1CA1BD]
There is also uncertainty within Washington because of the Nov. 8 elections, in which the White House, every seat in the House and one-third of the seats in Senate are up for grabs.
"There's a well of support for Colombia. Congress will find a way to make something work that's helpful and constructive," one aide said.
"But a lot is going to change between now and December," he added, referring to the prospect of some aid being held back.
Some lawmakers were quick to express their continued backing of the peace process after the shock referendum result.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the subcommittee that oversees foreign aide, said he thought there was no turning back for Colombia despite the vote.
"I have confidence that President (Juan Manuel) Santos, who has shown great political courage to get to this point, will find a way to bring the process to a satisfactory conclusion," Leahy said in a statement.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who chairs a Senate Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said any peace agreement must be fair to victims of "the many atrocities committed by the FARC." But he said in a statement that the close U.S. military and economic alliance with Colombia would endure.
(Editing by Alistair Bell)