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Trump budget slashes State Department, but top U.S. diplomat doesn't object

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

In President Trump's new proposed budget, the State Department and its foreign-aid programs take a huge cut, one that several experts have said will be devastating for global American diplomacy.

But the head of the department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, seemed unconcerned Thursday.

"The level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past — and particularly in this past year — is simply not sustainable," Tillerson said at a brief news conference in Tokyo, the first stop on a six-day, three-nation tour of Asia.

He said the department's budget last year was "historically high," in part because of conflicts around the globe where U.S. spending, in addition to military money, includes humanitarian aid and so-called "nation-building" assistance, as well as disaster relief in other parts of the world.

Tillerson, for most of his career a top executive at Exxon Mobil, said he expected more aid from other countries would help to cover the shortfall as the U.S. recedes, and he said he was "confident" the State Department would continue to fulfill its mission.

"We are going to be undertaking a very comprehensive examination of how programs are executed, a very comprehensive examination of how we are structured, and I’m confident that with the input of the men and women of the State Department, we are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars," Tillerson said.

"We understand the challenge," the former corporate CEO with no experience in diplomacy said. "I take the challenge that the president has given us on willingly and with great expectation that with everyone in the State Department’s assistance, we’re going to deliver a much better result for the American people in the future."

It was the first time Tillerson had answered questions publicly from reporters since assuming office more than six weeks ago.

Under the Trump proposal, the budget for the State Department and the Agency for International Development would be cut by 28%, percentage-wise a reduction second only to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Pentagon and other "hard power" agencies receive large increases in funding.

Advocacy groups immediately expressed outrage.

Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which advocates for press freedom and democracy around the globe, said the slashing "would make the world a more dangerous place."

"Foreign assistance and diplomacy are critical to defend democratic values and U.S. interests at a time when both are increasingly under threat," he said. "When the United States pulls back, authoritarian powers that oppose our values, and interests will step in."

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