The US House of Representatives approved a massive $1.3 billion dollars on Wednesday to the US State Department to launch a network which will promote US foreign policy goals and support key allies.

The TV and radio network will be on the air 24 hours a day delivering to Middle Eastern audiences a mix of news and entertainment programmes, according to congressional officials.

Analysts say that it is Washington's response to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic television network which is seen by many as the only truly independent voice in the Arab world. 

Anti-Americanism
  
With US troops facing increasing resistance in Iraq and Arab disenchantment with the United States on the rise, the House of Representatives decided that the establishment of a new Middle East Radio and Television Network was essential.

"This new network will greatly contribute to an enhancement of our efforts to combat the mis-information and propaganda that contribute to the rising anti-American sentiment in the region," said House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde.

However, there was controversy when the Republican-controlled House struck down a bill by Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley that called for earmarking $50 million for the United Nations Population Fund.

War on women

"The Republicans have declared a war on women," Crowley commented on the results of the vote. "This is a failure to the crucial need of improving the health of women and their families and to addressing rapid population growth."
 
The administration of President George W Bush has consistently opposed funds for the organisation, which is involved in family planning and other humanitarian work in more than 140 countries. They argue that it is promoting abortion.
 
The rejection set the stage for a confrontation with the Senate, which last week voted to repeal the ban on assistance to international family planning groups.