Kerry Warns About Cost of Sequestration to State Dep’t, Mum on $2.4 Billion For Pakistan

February 18, 2013 - 12:29 AM

John Kerry and President Zardari

John Kerry – then Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, now secretary of state – talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Capitol Hill on May 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry says looming sequestration cuts that will reduce the State Department’s fiscal year 2013 budget by $2.6 billion could affect sensitive areas like diplomatic security and aid to Israel – but is silent on Pakistan, a country that alone accounts for $2.4 billion in the existing FY2013 request.

In a letter last week to Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Milkuski (D-Md.), Kerry said the across-the-board cut of $2.6 billion “would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy and development.”

Some $850 million would have to be cut from the State Department operations budget and another $1.7 billion from foreign assistance programs.

Kerry went on to outline some of the implications, among them issues that engender strong bipartisan sentiment on Capitol Hill, such as military aid to Israel and Jordan and – a heightened concern in the post-Benghazi era – “efforts to enhance the security of U.S. government facilities, the platform for safe and secure diplomatic operations, both domestically and overseas.”

But neither the letter nor an accompanying factsheet mentions Pakistan.

In his former capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry in 2009 co-authored with then ranking member Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, which authorizes $1.5 billion in non-military assistance to Pakistan for each fiscal year 2010 through 2014.

In its FY2013 budget request, the State Department asked for a total of $2.4 billion for Pakistan, of which the majority ($1.29 billion) is earmarked for “peace and security,” with progressively smaller sums for economic development ($649 million), “democracy, human rights and governance” ($132m), education and social ($80m), health ($70m) and humanitarian assistance ($5m).

$800 million is for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF), designed to build the counterinsurgency capabilities of Pakistan’s security forces operating against militants in the country’s north-west and tribal regions.

Under the section on “foreign military financing” (FMF) – funds to help “coalition partners and friendly foreign governments” – $350 million is requested for Pakistan.

Kerry’s correspondence with Milkuski is silent on the PCCF. It does refer to the need to cut FMF spending by more than $300 million (the department’s total FMF request for FY2013 was $5.472 billion), but only mentions Israel, Jordan and Egypt in that context.

The factsheet states that sequestration would require cutting FMF by $300 million, “potentially reducing our military assistance to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and undermining our commitment to their security at an especially volatile time.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a press briefing Friday read excerpts from Kerry’s letter to the Appropriations Committee chairwoman.

Asked how the sequestration cuts would affect assistance to Pakistan, she said, “I don’t have those kinds of details at this point,” and added, “If we have something to share with you, we will.”

Nuland said it was her understanding that “sequestration requires a total percentage cut,” allocated across different accounts.

“I believe that within accounts, we have some flexibility.”

In its budget request, the State Department said the U.S. assistance to Pakistan “directly supports the core U.S. national security objective to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda, as well as to deny safe haven to it and its affiliates in the region.

“Despite recent challenges in the relationship, the United States and Pakistan must continue to identify shared interests and cooperate on joint actions that will help achieve these objectives,” it stated. “Maintaining robust civilian assistance to a democratic Pakistan and its population will contribute to a more stable, tolerant, and prosperous Pakistan, which over the long-term will make both the United States and the region safer.”

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has argued in favor of setting conditions on aid to Pakistan, questioning Islamabad’s commitment to the fight against terrorism.

Specifically, he called for the money to be withheld until Pakistan frees Dr. Shakil Afridi, believed to have helped in the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden. He was convicted in a Pakistani court last year and sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment.

When Paul raised the issue during Kerry’s confirmation hearing in January, Kerry said Pakistan had not received enough credit for its help in the operation to track down bin Laden.

He said that cutting aid to Pakistan would be “a pretty dramatic, draconian, sledgehammer approach to a relationship that really has a lot of interests.”

‘Climate change leadership’

In his letter and factsheet sent to Milkuski, Kerry specified other areas where he said the sequestration would make State Department budget reductions necessary, including:

--about $200 million from humanitarian assistance accounts

--more than $400 million from economic and development assistance accounts

--more than $400 million from the department’s global health program, including $280 million from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

--some $500 million for international security assistance (including the $300 million for FMF)

--some $70 million for food aid

--$35 million for counter-terrorism

--$20 million for peacekeeping

--$70 million from USAID’s operating budget

Kerry also Milkuski that the cuts would force the administration to “reduce leadership of climate change, reducing our efforts to help countries invest in a clean environment and transition to a low-carbon future, and constraining the market for U.S. ‘green’ firms.”