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Kerry: Budget cuts may force reduction in Israel aid
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF AND REUTERS
02/15/2013
US sec. of state warns that automatic spending cuts set to take effect next month could lead to reduction in military aid to Israel.
 
Automatic spending cuts set to take effect in the US next month could “lead to reductions in military assistance to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, undermining our commitment to their security at such a volatile time,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in comments publicized on Thursday.

Across-the-board cuts, known as “sequestration,” set to begin on March 1, would take $2.6 billion out of the budget for the US State Department and USAID, America’s development assistance agency, Kerry said.

“Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy and development,” he wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The warning from Kerry, who took over from Hillary Clinton a week and a half ago, follows similarly stark alerts from Pentagon chief Leon Panetta and other Obama administration officials over cuts that will take place unless lawmakers and US President Barack Obama reach an agreement to stop them.

The worst of the planned cuts might not come into force as lawmakers try to find ways to avoid severe cost reductions.

Democrats in the Senate on Thursday rallied around a $110b. tax increase and spending cut plan that would postpone the sequestration cuts.

The proposal is expected to be shot down by Republicans, but some of its components could be included in future budget negotiations.

Sequestration would cut $200 million from humanitarian assistance, more than $400m. for global health funds to fight AIDS and child deaths, and more than $500m.

in security assistance, Kerry said in his letter, dated February 11 and made public on Thursday.

The security assistance cuts could include $300m. in the Foreign Military Financing program and “lead to reductions in military assistance to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, undermining our commitment to their security at such a volatile time,” wrote Kerry.

Some $3b. goes to Israel annually in US military aid, 74 percent of which must be spent in the US.

“This cut will be felt at home, resulting in a loss of sales to US industry and a potential loss of US jobs,” Kerry added.

Additional job losses would occur as budget cuts force the slower processing of visas for foreign tourists and business visitors, Kerry said.

The cuts would total about $85b. this year across the entire US budget. With a deal to avoid them looking less and less likely, administration officials are rallying to warn of the pain that would be imposed on various programs.

Kerry also said cuts would impair efforts to beef up security at US diplomatic facilities, a sensitive issue after the attack by armed militants on the US mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi. US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in that attack.

Americans living or traveling abroad would also feel the pinch, Kerry warned, as cuts “constrain our ability to assist US citizens overseas, often at their darkest times.”
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