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US Senator Graham says Ukraine aid depends on conditions, domestic issues

FILE PHOTO: Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) arrives ahead of U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "The Justice Department's Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election.

KYIV (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said on Monday, after meeting Ukraine's president, that he was confident an aid package stalled in the U.S. Congress would soon be approved, but called for aid to take the form of a low-interest, waivable loan.

Graham said he fully backed extending the aid, but told Ukrainians they had to take account of U.S. domestic problems that hang over the legislation, including border security.

He and other Republicans have backed the notion of loans rather than grants for U.S. allies to make the expenditure more sustainable and popular, a plan espoused by former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election.

"If you want aid to Ukraine, you better start talking to the American taxpayer. You better start talking to them about what's going on. Thirty-four trillion (dollars) in debt," Graham told a news conference after talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"Can we provide a loan that's waivable with no interest? Yes. Can Ukraine absorb that? Yes. I think President Zelenskiy would welcome the weapons in any fashion we could get the weapons to him."

President Joe Biden has asked Congress to back a bill that would provide $60 billion more in aid for Ukraine. It has passed the Democratic-led Senate, but it cannot become law unless it is passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives.

The lower chamber’s leaders, who have so far refused to allow a vote, are close Trump allies.

Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address, said he briefed Graham on the situation on the battlefield, where Russian forces have made some recent gains, but front lines have changed little for several months.

Zelenskiy made no reference to the aid package or loan proposal but said the two men discussed "further cooperation and support for Ukraine. All our actions must be farsighted, far-reaching and as effective as possible to allow free nations to continue living in freedom and security."

Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said he was "more optimistic than ever" that the House will endorse the package.

He said 70% of Republicans in the Senate understand the need to help Ukraine as well as a similar number of Republicans in the House.

"But we have a broken border at home. So when I go to South Carolina, they talk about, 'you want to help Ukraine? Well, what about our own border?'" he said. "We have to, as political leaders, address our own people too."

A non-interest, waivable loan, he said, "makes a lot of sense". Graham said he had spoken about to it House Speaker Mike Johnson before his trip "and I am hoping it will be in the package that will get out of the house in the coming days, not weeks".

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Ron Popeski and Bill Berkrot)