Clinton promises to bolster foreign aid programs

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 23, 2009 10:16pm GMT

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the State Department in Washington January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the State Department in Washington January 22, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised on Friday to strengthen U.S. foreign aid and development programs and told workers at the agency supervising those efforts they would be an equal partner in diplomacy.

On her second day on the job as America's top diplomat, Clinton was greeted by an enthusiastic, overflow crowd of about 1,000 employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development and said she would make their work a priority.

"I wanted to come here today with a very simple message: I believe in development and I believe with all my heart that it truly is an equal partner, along with defense and diplomacy, in the furtherance of America's national security," Clinton said.

Clinton said her early visit to USAID was a sign of the renewed emphasis she would put on U.S. foreign assistance, which lost ground as a priority under the Bush administration.

The agency supervises most non-military U.S. foreign aid and works around the globe on issues including humanitarian assistance and fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS.

But Clinton said the agency's role had expanded in recent years to include post-war reconstruction and stabilization missions that required working with the military.

"We are asking you to do more and more with less, and my goal is to make sure we match the mission and the resources," she said.

Clinton said it was ironic that military officers were given "unfettered" resources to build schools, pave roads and open clinics, while "our diplomats and our development experts have to go through miles of paperwork to spend 10 cents."

"As we look toward the future, it is essential that the role of USAID and our other foreign assistance programs be strengthened, and be adequately funded," she said.

Clinton, the former first lady and U.S. senator from New York, told workers at USAID that President Barack Obama's visit to the State Department on Thursday on his second day in office was a sign of his renewed emphasis on diplomacy as well.

She noted that Obama's mother worked on microfinance programs in Indonesia. "So his understanding and commitment to these important human issues runs very deep," she said.

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