Rex Tillerson defends Trump’s foreign budget cuts assailed by senators

Committee members, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, spoke sharply against the plan to cut such operations by about a third.

world Updated: Jun 13, 2017 22:28 IST
Reuters, Washington
Rex Tillerson,Donald Trump,Republicans
Rex Tillerson testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.(Reuters Photo)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday he stood by the Trump administration’s plans for steep cuts in the diplomatic and foreign aid budget, as critics charged that such reductions would ultimately be harmful to America.

“I’m convinced we can maximise the effectiveness of these programs and continue to offer America’s helping hand to the world,” Tillerson told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Committee members, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, spoke sharply against the plan to cut such operations by about a third. Republicans control both houses of Congress, which sets the federal government budget.

Senator Bob Corker, the committee’s Republican chairman, predicted major changes in Trump’s proposal as it makes its way through Congress, saying, “The budget that’s been presented is not going to be the budget that we’re going to deal with.”

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, sharply denounced Trump’s plan. “The budget takes a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach that will cost lives and endanger Americans here at home,” he said.

Tillerson said he expected to have a plan for reorganizing the State Department at the end of 2017. He said a review of the State Department and the US Agency for International was under way.

Trump’s plan for the fiscal year beginning in October features a stark decrease in non-military US government engagement abroad as the administration pursues Trump’s “America First” world view.

Trump administration officials defend the cuts by saying the rest of the world must do its “fair share” as the United States retreats from its traditional spending abroad.

In all, the Trump proposal cuts about 32% from US diplomacy and aid budgets, or nearly $19 billion.

Separately, 16 retired senior generals and other ex-military officers said they would submit joint testimony to the Senate on Wednesday about the importance of foreign aid to national security.

It was the first of four hearings for Tillerson this week and the first since his acrimonious confirmation hearing in January.

US student release in North Korea

Tillerson started the hearing by announcing that North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, a US university student held captive there for 17 months.

The United States has sought to clamp down on Pyongyang over its nuclear program. Tillerson said Washington is discussing North Korea with all of its allies, and seeing some response from China. He said North Korea would be at the top of the agenda next week at a high-level meeting between US and Chinese officials.

Tillerson said the United States would have to work with other countries to deny North Korea access to basics such as oil and will have to consider whether to impose secondary sanctions on those doing business with North Korea.

“We are in a stage where we are moving into this next effort of, ‘Are we going to have to, in effect, start taking secondary sanctions because countries we have provided information to have not, or are unwilling, or don’t have the ability to do that?’“ Tillerson said.

US lawmakers were expected to question Tillerson about conflicting messages from the administration about foreign affairs and links between the administration and Russia, including his own ties.

First Published: Jun 13, 2017 22:28 IST