Saturday, 16 February 2013


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

John Kerry visited the U.S. Agency for International Development today for the first time since assuming the post of secretary of state – and as expected, he came out swinging against looming aid cuts.

Kerry greeted USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and staff members at 10 a.m. in the Atrium Hall of the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington.

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address earlier this week, “challenged all of us” to end extreme poverty and, Kerry said, “we will” do it. He also warned against looming budget cuts, noting that U.S. aid showcases American values.

Earlier this week, Kerry urged Congress to avoid government-wide cuts that would take effect in early March unless lawmakers strike a deficit reduction deal. In a letter to Senate appropriators, he said “cuts of this magnitude would severely impair our ability to ensure America’s leadership in global affairs, build relationships with host governments and promote peaceful democracies.”

Sequestration could result in the following cuts, according to Kerry:
  • $200 million to humanitarian assistance.
  • $400 million to global health.
  • $70 million to food aid.

Kerry told lawmakers: “Cuts would eliminate resources needed to fight disease and hunger, invest in global health, provide humanitarian assistance and reduce the threats of climate change.”

Sequestration, he said, would “reduce USAID’s operating budget by nearly $70 million, reversing the progress made to better equip the agency to achieve the administration’s objectives in an accountable, transparent manner.”

While Kerry has remained relatively quite lately on development cooperation, he has over the years been a vocal supporter of a robust foreign aid budget, and he has more recently vowed to advance reforms begun under his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, and also continue her focus on global health, food security, governance and gender issues. He also is expected to elevate climate change at the State Department and beyond.

How he is going to manage these and many other priorities remains to be seen. In the two weeks he’s been in office, Kerry has begun to flex his political muscle by starting to negotiate with Congress the release of about $700 million in aid for the Palestinian Authority.

Speaking on his behalf, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “I will simply say that he has raised this in every conversation that he’s had with colleagues. He has been active.”

When he was still a senator, he was instrumental in authorizing $1.5 billion in non-military assistance to Pakistan between 2010 and 2014. In 2010, when monsoon rains flooded Pakistan, USAID, through this law, provided $550 million for relief and recovery.

Kerry, the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Shah, the USAID chief, have known each other for years. Three years ago, Shah relayed an anecdote on Haiti:

“Even since the earthquake hit, Sen. Kerry has called personally several times with ideas and with, really, an expectation that we push ourselves to think bigger, think more creatively about what we could do if we coordinate better, if we come together as a community and if we leverage all of the assets in the federal family to really address some of the challenges we face like rebuilding the port or reopening the airport,” he said.

Shah noted, “I think this direct engagement demonstrates not only his willingness to participate in these issues but his commitment to offer real leadership.”

Kerry hit a similar vein today as he met his colleagues at USAID.

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