Kerry: Budget impasse a challenge for US diplomacy

The secretary of state says the budget impasse endangers billions in aid, security assistance and other international programs.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry defended U.S. foreign-affairs spending Wednesday against a backdrop of looming budget cuts, saying it protects U.S. security and creates jobs.

Speaking before across-the-board U.S. budget reductions set to begin March 1, Kerry argued that the slightly more than 1 percent of the federal budget that Washington spends on foreign affairs pays dividends in national security and growth.

"Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It's not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world," Kerry said at the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, the first U.S. secretary of state.

He said the vacuum left by U.S. retreat from the world could foster failed states that become bases for attacks on the United States, whereas foreign aid can help other nations become customers for U.S. goods and sympathetic to American values.

"Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow," he added in the Charlottesville, Va., speech, his first major address since replacing Hillary Clinton as secretary of state Feb. 1.

Kerry, who leaves Sunday on a nine-nation trip to Western Europe and the Middle East, did not discuss in detail his approach to thorny issues such as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and Syria's civil war.

His trip, from Sunday through March 6, will take him to London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Ankara, Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

Instead, he focused on the possibility of the automatic spending cuts, known in Washington jargon as "sequestration," that may kick in on March 1, as well as a general defense of U.S. engagement in the world.

Sequestration would slice $2.6 billion from the budget for the State Department and the U.S. development aid agency, Kerry said last week, arguing that would undercut U.S. diplomacy and security at a time of turmoil across the Middle East and Africa.

"When a shrinking world clashes with calls for shrinking budgets ... it's our job to connect those dots ... for the American people between what we do over there and the size of the difference that it makes over here at home," he said.

"Why, the price of abandoning our global efforts would be exorbitant, and why, the vacuum we would leave by retreating within ourselves will quickly be filled by those whose interests differ dramatically from ours," he added.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed

——

MSN News on Facebook and Twitter

Stay up to date on breaking news and current events.

Friend us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/news.msn

Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msnnews