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Donald Trump budget threatens steep cuts for diplomacy and foreign aid

The Trump administration is proposing a 37% cut to diplomacy and foreign aid budgets to help pay for increased military spending, US officials have said.

The steep cuts raised immediate concerns among legislators and national security veterans about America's ability to promote its values around the world and avert wars, rather than fight them.

Republican Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor to describe foreign aid as a national security imperative.

"I promise you, it's going to be a lot harder to recruit someone to anti-Americanism and anti-American terrorism if the United States of America was the reason why they are even alive today," he said.

David Petraeus, who headed the CIA after commanding US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a group of more than 100 national security experts echoed that sentiment, calling diplomacy "critical to keeping America safe".

Officials familiar with the proposal said the reductions would be felt across the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

Foreign development assistance, which is largely overseen by USAID, would take the biggest hit, but funding for State Department operations and staffing would also be affected, according to the officials.

The proposed cuts are contained in a budget outline sent to federal departments this week.

Officials said a 37% cut would eliminate programmes and probably cause staff cuts, including security contractors at diplomatic missions, a matter that became only more sensitive after the deadly 2012 attack on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya.

They said some overseas facilities and offices might even have to be closed.

The State Department already has been bracing for budget cuts. Many of its bureaus went through exercises earlier this year to see how they could function with 20% or 25% less money, officials said.

Buyouts could help reduce the size of the diplomatic corps along with early retirements and layoffs, they found. Eliminating special envoy and special representative positions could also yield savings.

Only 11 of 32 special envoy or representative posts that existed during the Obama administration are currently filled.

USAID's operations may be even more precarious. Numerous agency initiatives, including those dealing with global health, climate change and women's issues, could face the axe if the proposal is adopted, the officials said.

They said they expected a majority of USAID funding to be cut.

However, veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin says he expects a spending boost for veterans' programmes, and his department will probably escape the proposed cuts.

Mr Shulkin also said he would seek "hundreds" more exemptions to a federal hiring freeze for his department.

AP

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