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The United States enjoyed a rare foreign trade surplus of $10.2 billion in the first three months of this year, the first time that has occurred in almost nine years, the government said Tuesday.

The Commerce Department attributed the surplus in the broadest measure of foreign trade, called the current account, to $22.7 billion in cash received during the first quarter from Saudi Arabia, Japan and other countries to pay the costs of the Persian Gulf war.Because of the fund-raising the Bush administration conducted to finance the war, economists are forecasting that the current account deficit for the whole year should narrow to the $40 billion range, far below the $92.12 billion deficit incurred in 1990.

In addition to the allied contributions, the current account imbalance is expected to be helped by further gains in sales of U.S. exports overseas. A strong showing in export sales has helped to cushion the severity of the current recession, and the administration is counting on further export growth to help pull the country out of its first downturn in eight years.

The current account is the broadest measure of U.S. trade because it measures not only trade in merchandise but also investment flows between countries and earnings on tourism and other services.

The $10.2 billion surplus was the first time the trade flow has been positive for the United States since a $3.61 billion surplus in the second quarter of 1982.

During the 1980s, America's trade deficit soared to record heights as billions of dollars were handed over to foreigners to pay for imported cars and television sets.

That money returned to the United States in the form of foreign investments, transforming America from the world's largest creditor nation to the largest debtor country.

For the first three months of the year, the country registered a deficit of $18.37 billion in merchandise trade, the smallest deficit in this category in nearly eight years. The improvement in merchandise trade came as the recession dampened demand for imports while sales of U.S. exports hit an all-time high.

Offsetting the merchandise trade deficit was a $6.99 billion balance on services, a category that includes such things as foreign tourist spending in the United States.