John Kerry did not detail his plans for development cooperation, but his message to colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development on Friday may have been as important: He fully supports their work and will fight for their cause in upcoming budget battles and hot spots around the globe.
Kerry’s visit on Friday, Feb. 15, to USAID’s headquarters in Washington was his first since assuming the post of secretary of state earlier this month. In his remark, he praised President Barack Obama’s development priorities and suggested he’ll build on the “extraordinary job” his predecessor Hillary Clinton did in elevating development cooperation as a central pillar of U.S. foreign affairs.
“President Obama could not have made it more clear in his State of the Union message when he challenged all of us here and said, ‘We have an opportunity to end extreme poverty in the next two decades,’” Kerry said. “And I’m confident that with your work and help, and if we get Congress to continue to understand this connection, we will end extreme poverty in the next two decades.”
Kerry said he is “deeply, deeply committed” to USAID’s mission of opening up opportunities to people in need.
“One percent of the total of what we invest in — not spend but invest in — comes to AID. One percent,” Kerry said. “And what we do to change people’s opinions, to change lives, to open up opportunity as a consequence of that is really hard to define to people but totally in keeping with the best values not only of the country but of any and every philosophy of life or religion that I know.”
Earlier this week, Kerry urged Congress to avoid governmentwide 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.
Kerry said of Clinton: “She did an extraordinary job of helping to lead the department and to articulate these. And we need to build on that now.”
Clinton knew that helping nations in crisis and turmoil would benefit the United States’ interest, he added.
“If you don’t help people with rule of law, if you don’t help them and mentor them and introduce people to certain opportunities through the linkage of health to societal stability, and ultimately to economic opportunity, America is going to fall behind and lose the leadership role that we have in the world today,” Kerry said.
“This is not just about over there; this is about here. This is about how you build the societies that offer us the market opportunities so that we can have the trade and investment and the options of creating the jobs here at home and the goods that Americans can buy and so forth.”
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 last week, “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 Rajiv Shah, the USAID administrator, 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 Friday as he met his colleagues at USAID.
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