Much of $12.5 billion in U.S. foreign aid is misdirected toward military and political objectives and should be redirected to help the poor in other nations, a coalition of religious groups said Friday.

The group, Interfaith Action for Economic Justice, made up of 32 Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish agencies, released a report arguing that "genuine national security cannot be achieved without ending poverty.""We recommend that the security assistance portion of the U.S. foreign assistance program be drastically reduced and the funds redirected to participatory and sustainable development assistance," the report said.

Leanne Skooglund Hofford, the coalition's staff associate for international development policy and author of the report, said over the past 10 years, "U.S. foreign assistance has incresingly focused on perceived U.S. security concerns rather than fulfillment of human needs."

The report said that in 1988, the U.S. government had $12.5 billion to spend on foreign aid and another $1.5 billion for food aid. "Nearly two-thirds of the $12.5 billion is allocated to countries or activities that the U.S. government considers vital to its national security or political interest, while only one-third goes to fund development assistance," the report said.

According to the report, from 1981 to 1985, the overall U.S. foreign aid program grew by 49 percent but development assistance grew only 18 percent while security assistance was up 68 percent.

It said the bulk - 72 percent - of the nation's Economic Support Fund, the basic foreign aid package, goes to Israel, Egypt and eight other countries that grant the United States military bases or access rights, including Turkey, Portugal, the Philippines, Kenya, Somalia, Oman, Morocco and Tunisia.

"While projects and programs funded under ESF may, on occasion, be designed to help the poor, it is clear that they are conceived and executed primarily to further perceived security and political objectives," the report said.