WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (AP)--Calling it "good for our souls," President Clinton on Monday signed a foreign aid bill that supplies $435 million to forgive debts of the world's poorest countries. "By lifting the weakest, poorest among us, we lift the rest of us as well," Clinton said.

Clinton said the bill would free poor nations from crushing financial obligations to let them feed and educate their people better.

"It will be good for our economy because it represents an investment in future markets; good for our security because in the long run, it is dangerously destabilizing to have half of the world on the cutting edge of technology while the other half struggles on the bare edge of survival; but most of all, it will be good for our souls because global poverty is an affront and confronting the challenge is simply the right thing to do," Clinton said.

The money was contained in an already-signed $14.9 billion foreign aid bill that also increased military aid for Israel, provided $100 million to the new government in Serbia and $300 million to fight HIV infections and AIDS around the world, and lifted a ban on U.S. aid for overseas family-planning groups that advocate or participate in abortions.

With the U.S. funding, the International Monetary Fund expects to meet its goal of providing 20 of the world's poorest countries with debt relief by Dec. 31, officials said.

"I believe that this will put our country squarely on the side of humanity for a very, very long time to come," Clinton said.

Those who had pressed for debt relief included a diverse group--including Pope John Paul II, singer Bono of the rock group U2, and international relief agencies such as Oxfam.

"It shows that when we get the pope and the pop stars all singing on the same sheet of music, our voices do carry to the heavens," Clinton said.

The president praised the bipartisan coalition that helped push the bill through Congress. "Just as America must project strength in the world, America must also project compassion," said Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Budget Committee.

Religious leaders also appeared with Clinton at the ceremony in the White House East Room.

"If we can win a sustained shift in our government's priorities, I think we could cut world hunger and poverty in half by 2015," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an anti-hunger organization. "Wouldn't that be a great day of jubilee?"

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