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Entries in State Department (18)

Tuesday
Feb282012

State Department Budget Gets Pushback in Senate

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emerged from two back-to-back Senate committees Tuesday without clear momentum for the fiscal year 2013 State Department budget.

The agency has requested $54.7 billion in funding, an increase of 2.6 percent. Clinton says the request represents slightly over one percent of the total federal budget and doesn’t cover the rate of inflation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called the proposal “budgeting by inertia” and said it disproportionately allocated resources to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan given rising issues in East Asia and the Americas. Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the State Department budget.

“It’s going to be difficult to get a bill through this year,” Leahy said.

But “painful cuts” had already hit the department, according to Clinton, including an 18percent decrease in funding for Eurasian programs.

The U.S. presence in Iraq was a target for critics, with Leahy singling out a $4.8 billion request for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Such an expenditure, he said, was a “symbol of grandiose and unrealistic ambitions in that country.”

Clinton told the panel the embassy was still in the process of “right-sizing” its resources. Earlier this month it was announced State had would cut 10 percent of funding from the program.

The State Department budget includes a new $770 million fund that Clinton says would be used exclusively for unexpected issues to arise in the Middle East and North Africa. According to the secretary, during the early days of the Arab Spring the State Department had to “carve out” $360 million from existing programs to support U.S. efforts, a tactic that proved logistically “awkward.” The new fund would be a savings bank specifically for unanticipated regional issues.

Secretary Clinton says it was inspired by a similar program used during the fall of the Soviet Union to counter hunger in Poland and Hungary.

Clinton faced panels from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Relations, and Related Projects.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct032011

Activists Protest Relationship Between Lobbyist, Obama Administration

American actress Daryl Hannah sits in front of the White House in Washington, DC, Aug. 30, 2011, during a protest against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Hannah was among dozens of protestors arrested in a demonstration against the oil pipeline which, if constructed, would run from Canada to Texas. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Opponents of a proposed $7 billion Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline say emails between an oil company lobbyist and the Obama administration reveal a pattern of “deeply disturbing” bias and corruption that undermines an impartial government assessment of the deal.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, has been publishing the documents online in an effort to ratchet up pressure on the State Department, which is considering approval of the so-called Keystone XL project by the end of the year.

The emails show frequent, friendly and collaborative interactions between Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for TransCanada, the pipeline’s owner, and State Department staffers in Washington and Ottawa. Elliott is a former campaign aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Activists say the “most disturbing document” is an exchange between Elliott and Maria Verloop, a State Department energy and environmental issues counselor, in which Verloop cheers Elliott’s success in winning support from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for the pipeline.

“Go Paul! Baucus support holds clout,” she wrote in a Sept. 10, 2010, email.

Elliott responded to Verloop later that day, saying lobbying “is a grind but when the grind pays off with support it makes it worthwhile.”

In a December 2010 email, Verloop told Elliott that “it’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired.”

Critics say the exchanges and dozens more like them depict inappropriately “cozy” relations between Elliott and the department, even if there is no sign of illegality.

“If President Obama remains true to his campaign promise that his election would mean an end to the days of lobbyists setting the agenda in Washington, he has no choice but to rescind the executive order delegating to the State Department the authority to sign a presidential permit for this pipeline,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement on its website.

“If the pipeline decision is made in the White House, rather than at the biased State Department, and if President Obama undertakes a fair and impartial analysis of the evidence, we believe he will reject this pipeline,” the group said.

Neither Clinton nor Obama have signaled their views on the pipeline, and administration officials insist the independent vetting process remains underway. Clinton is the final arbiter of the deal, which she is expected to rule on by the end of the year.

Nuland said the documents depict only one side of multi-lateral consultations surrounding the pipeline. She also said no contact has occurred between Elliott and any administration staffers with direct influence on the final approval process.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Aug232011

US Capitol, Pentagon, State Department Shaken by 5.8 Magnitude Earthquake

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Capitol, Pentagon, State Department and surrounding buildings all emptied Tuesday following a 5.8 earthquake that sent government workers scrambling.

Sirens sounded outside U.S. House office buildings on the south side of Capitol Hill as staffers in neon yellow "floor warden" vests directed workers away from their offices.

Police officers said they were ordered to evacuate all of the U.S. Capitol complex.

All congressional buildings have been evacuated and will remain closed until "structural assessment" of each is conducted. Those inspections are underway now, with more teams on the way, said Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider at 3:46 p.m. ET.

 "We've got a lot of buildings, a lot of floors to cover," she said, providing no estimate for when they will reopen.

The police department has been "hampered" in being able to quickly coordinate with other agencies by "signals jammed," she said. But operations within the department on the Hill were going smoothly.

At the Pentagon and State Department, workers also streamed outside, though not under an official evacuation order.

Hundreds of people were outside of the Pentagon after the tremors were felt when minutes later, an alarm was sounding in the hallways telling Pentagon employees that a pipe had burst due to the earthquake and there was “significant standing water” on an upper-floor area of the building.  People who work in that immediate area are being told to avoid it.

But despite that announcement, Pentagon police later informed staff to return to their offices.

The Pentagon-wide alarm system was installed after this building was targeted during 9/11.

Meanwhile, across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., the State Department was also not under evacuation orders. No instructions were given over the loudspeakers throughout the building and Diplomatic Security confirms there was no requirement to leave. That said, many employees left the building on their own.

The State Dept.’s daily briefing had just ended when the quake hit. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is on vacation in New York and was not in the building.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar162011

Hillary Clinton Will Leave State Department if Obama Wins Re-Election 

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an interviewer Wednesday that she would not accept a role in a possible second Obama administration.

The executive producer of the CNN show John King USA, Michelle Jaconi, tweeted that Secretary Clinton told the network in an interview in Cairo on Wednesday that she “would NOT be in an Obama 2nd term cabinet.”

Clinton had been rumored to take over for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but has suggested she was not open to the job.  Clinton also told CNN she wouldn't want to be vice president or run for president again.

"You know, I had a wonderful experience running and I am very proud of the support I had and very grateful for the opportunity, but I'm going to be, you know, moving on," she said, according to a transcript.

While Wednesday's comments would be the most definitive, Clinton has also said in the past that she was leaning against another term as Secretary of State.

In January, she told The Today Show that a second term wasn’t something she was “committing to or even thinking about.”

When asked during a PBS interview in January 2010 whether she could imagine staying on the job for another four years, she replied “No, I really can’t,” saying a full eight years would be “very challenging.”

Clinton has said that once she leaves the Obama administration she would like to focus her work on women and girls, something she has remained passionate about during her time as America’s top diplomat.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

State Department Fighting GOP Pledge to Cut Foreign Aid

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department and USAID are battling powerful Republican currents that are trying to erode U.S. spending on the department’s operations and especially foreign aid.
 
New House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen assumed her position pledging to slice the department’s budget and take an axe to foreign aid.
 
This comes as the State Department takes over operations in Iraq from the Pentagon. The State Department argues this means they need to dramatically increase budget requests, but it would still represent a major savings over how much the Pentagon was spending there. The department has also increased its footprint in Afghanistan over the past couple years.
 
Republicans have also had their eye on foreign aid. During a committee hearing last week another Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, challenged Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg about the utility of foreign aid.
 
“Borrowing more money from China in order to give it to other people in different countries is not something that I consider to be a positive option. It's crazy. It's insane,” he said.
 
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Tuesday
Dec142010

Taliban and al Qaeda Safe Havens in Pakistan Remain a Major Problem, and Other Af-Pak Review Issues

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started Tuesday's Af-Pak Review meeting by talking about Richard Holbrooke and how much it meant to the family that the president spoke to them.

The president remarked on how much the team will miss him.

But then they got on with the review in a tone that was described by one attendee as “business-like."

President Obama will make a statement about the Af-Pak review on Thursday, one year after his speech at West Point announcing a new way forward. The review has been two months in the making, headed up by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

The review will report some good news:

    * Progress in halting Taliban and insurgent momentum, especially around Kandahar and Helmand Provinces;
    * Success degrading senior al Qaeda leadership – and though the White House won’t say this aloud, administration sources say this has been accomplished through drone strikes in Pakistan; and
    * Improvement working with Pakistani government in civilian/military/intelligence areas.

But the new cooperation with Pakistan has only gone so far, which leads us to the continued challenges the report describes:

    * Insurgents/Taliban/al Qaeda are still finding safe havens in Pakistan, mainly in the FATA region – the tribal areas in the northwest of Pakistan;
    * Creating a stable and non-corrupt Afghan government – especially in the sub-national level, as in Marja – is a challenge;
    * Training and retaining Afghan forces that are capable of taking control from the U.S. remains difficult.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov262010

Ahead of Latest WikiLeaks' Release, State Dept. Warns Allies

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo Courtesy - BERTIL ERICSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With the website WikiLeaks set to release a new trove of sensitive information, the U.S. government is already bracing for the worldwide fallout, pre-emptively warning allies in the hope of lessening the blow once classified documents go public.

WikiLeaks and its controversial founder Julian Assange are reportedly prepared to publish a cache of information including hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables that could embarrass the U.S. government as well as other governments around the world. WikiLeaks said its next release will be seven times the size of its last leak in October, which contained some 400,000 Pentagon documents about the war in Iraq. Last July, WikiLeaks also published roughly 70,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan.

Senior U.S. officials warn that the next round of WikiLeaks documents would be considerably more damaging than the two previous WikiLeaks document dumps.

"This is outrageous and dangerous," a senior U.S. official told ABC News. "This puts at risk the ability of the United States to conduct foreign policy. Period. End of paragraph."

Although the State Department said it did not know specifically what could be released, the scope of the documents goes far beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, essentially detailing day-to-day operation of U.S. foreign policy, including summaries of confidential discussions with foreign officials and intelligence sources, and dissidents and opposition figures.

The big worry among U.S. authorities is that the documents would reveal names and detailed discussions with individuals who expected that their conversations with U.S. officials would be kept confidential. In the case of intelligence sources and dissidents in oppressive countries, this could put lives of U.S. sources at risk.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov182010

Clinton Seeks to Reorganize the State Department and USAID

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will soon recommend changing the way the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are structured, an effort her aides say is aimed at improving how it responds to crises around the world and streamline the way the department operates.
 
Among the many proposed changes, sanctions enforcement, international energy affairs, and human rights bureaus will get more prominent positions at the State Department, and USAID will get its own policy planning staff.
 
The changes are among many recommended by a team that has been drafting the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), a long-term budget strategy similar to one conducted by the Pentagon. There’s no estimate yet on how much this will cost. The QDDR is 14 months in the making, and several months delayed. The final report is due out sometime in December.
 
Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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