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Powell Defends State Dept. Budget Request, but Spending for Post-War Iraq Yet to Be Determined

Secretary of Sate Colin Powell testified Thursday morning before the House Budget Committee in support of President Bush’s fiscal 2004 international affairs budget, primarily focusing on efforts to combat terrorism abroad.

However, the proposed $28.5 billion budget, an 11.2 percent increase from what is expected to be in the final fiscal 2003 allocation, does not include any funds for dealing with a post-war Iraq.

Urging the committee to approve the administration’s request, Powell highlighted his commitment to improve worldwide security and overseas security facilities by rehabilitating existing embassies, building secure compounds and building a new embassy in Germany.

After addressing his budget needs, the secretary spoke to the foreign affairs section of the budget.

“Today our number one priority is to fight and win the global war on terrorism,” said Powell.

With that in mind, he outlined budget provisions for providing “economic, military and democracy assistance to key foreign partners and allies.” The assistance includes $4.7 billion to countries that support the United States in the war on terrorism, including Afghanistan, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) expressed concern that the budget did not include provisions for expenses that the United States will face in the rebuilding of Iraq, if there is in fact a war in the Persian Gulf region.

Powell responded by saying that until the conflict actually unfolds he has no way of projecting a cost, but that the State Department is formulating multiple contingency plans.

“We aren’t really sure,” said Powell. “One shouldn’t assume devastation of Iraq — it’s a system that is functioning now, it just needs reconstruction.”

Earlier in his testimony, Powell outlined the way in which Bush’s budget will strengthen the U.S. diplomatic force through spending on education and technology, as well as the hiring of 399 new foreign- and civil-service officers. The new employees will complete the president’s goal of hiring 1,100-plus new foreign-service agents to make it possible for the State Department to keep up with its increased workload.

Another aspect of the budget’s provision for foreign assistance came in the form of the Millennium Challenge Account, an independent government corporation. MCA, with proposed funding of $1.3 billion, will be used to supplement humanitarian programs already in place and will be available to countries that “demonstrate their commitment to economic opportunity, investing in people and good governance.”

Powell touched on the proposed $1.345 billion allocated to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic with specific focus on African and Caribbean countries.

In a response to Budget Chairman Jim Nussle’s (R-Iowa) concern that the spending proposal may neglect domestic problems while focusing too heavily on Africa and the Caribbean, Powell said, “We saw what this disease does here at home — we are caring, compassionate people — and we can’t look at this plague on the world and think that it had nothing to do with us.”

Powell went on to explain that by educating the people in those countries the United States is in effect “fighting terrorism on all fronts.” He said that without our help, the economic problems caused by the epidemic will “breed terrorism.”

Powell concluded his testimony by saying, “The times we live in are troubled to be sure, but I believe there is every bit as much opportunity in the days ahead as there is danger.”

He stated that American leadership is critical in taking advantage of that opportunity and that Bush’s fiscal 2004 budget is critical in providing that leadership.

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