Foreign Aid In The Trump Era

Sep 29, 2018
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President Trump wants to cut aid to countries that don't support U.S. policies. He made that clear again in his speech this week at the United Nations. The administration's already cutting aid to Palestinians to try to pressure them into negotiations with Israel. It's a big change from the previous administration, and groups working to address crises and alleviate poverty are worried. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The International Committee for the Red Cross (ph) prides itself in its neutrality. Its president, Peter Maurer, made that clear in his talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

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PETER MAURER: As a humanitarian organization, it is important that we are able to address needs of people, and not either political or religious or any other preferences or allegiances with the one or the other donor country.

KELEMEN: At the U.N. Tuesday, President Trump said he's reviewing all aid to make sure it only goes to countries that agree with the U.S.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends.

KELEMEN: That speech and Trump's denunciation of globalism sparked a lot of concern among diplomats, though Maurer doesn't think the international system is falling apart over that.

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MAURER: I'm concerned about an overall atmosphere in many countries, which boils down to my way is the only way, to the extent that this reflects in many parts of the world an unwillingness to move together and to address some global issues together. That's of concern.

KELEMEN: There are many trouble spots that need a global response, including Syria, Yemen and Myanmar. The ICRC president is even more worried about what he calls forgotten conflicts in Africa. So I asked the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, Tibor Nagy, about the possibility of U.S. aid cuts there. He says politics have never played a role in humanitarian aid and remembers well serving at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia in the 1980s.

TIBOR NAGY: And Ethiopia, at that time, was a Marxist dictatorship. And when the famine hit, you know, President Reagan at the time says, a child knows no politics. A starving child absolutely does not know politics.

KELEMEN: That was Reagan. What about Trump?

NAGY: I am sure all U.S. presidents act in a manner of interest to humanitarian concerns.

KELEMEN: Nagy wouldn't say if the U.S. would cut any sort of assistance to countries that vote against U.S. interests in the U.N., as some Trump administration officials have suggested, nor would he comment on a Washington Post report that one official wants to cut aid to countries that have strong financial ties to China. That would mean many in Africa. Nagy says Africans want U.S. investment more than aid.

NAGY: What the African states are going to need more than anything else - and a number of the people I've had meetings with this week have just reinforced it - is going to be jobs, jobs, jobs - opportunities for all of these millions of young people.

KELEMEN: And after a week of meetings at the U.N., the assistant secretary of state said African leaders want to work with the U.S. on that, even if President Trump is denouncing what he called the ideology of globalism. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ DIALOGUE AND PHILANTHROPE'S "KOPFSALAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.