U.S. to get tough on for­eign aid

Obama tells U.N. that as­sis­tance will rise, but more of it will go to na­tions tak­ing steps to be­come self-re­liant.

Los Angeles Times - - The World - Christi Par­sons and Paul Richter re­port­ing from the united na­tions cpar­sons@latimes.com paul.richter@latimes.com

Pres­i­dent Obama un­veiled to world lead­ers Wed­nes­day a new plan for dis­tribut­ing U.S. aid to strug­gling na­tions, promis­ing to “change the way we do busi­ness” by putting a new fo­cus on self-re­liance and mar­ket forces to cre­ate a path out of poverty.

The United States’ aim is not to sim­ply dole out aid but to cre­ate “the con­di­tions where as­sis­tance is no longer needed,” Obama said in com­ments at the United Na­tions. The pro­gram will re­ward coun­tries will­ing to co­op­er­ate in their own im­prove­ment, he said.

At the same time, Obama in­sisted that the United States would not aban­don the help­less and would re­main a lead­ing world donor. Coun­tries such as Haiti and Afghanistan would con­tinue to re­ceive spe­cial as­sis­tance, even if their gov­ern­ments’ records are ques­tion­able, aides said.

“We will seek part­ners who want to build their own ca­pac­ity to pro­vide for their peo­ple,” Obama said. “We will seek devel­op­ment that is sus­tain­able.... The days when your devel­op­ment was dic­tated in for­eign cap­i­tals must come to an end.”

Obama spoke dur­ing a week in which world lead­ers have been fo­cused on the U.N.’s chief anti-poverty pro­gram, the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals, a 15-year plan launched in 2000. With five years left to meet tar­gets of poverty re­duc­tion and health­care im­prove­ments, and amid a world eco­nomic cri­sis, doubts have spread about whether the goals can be met.

The new U.S. pro­gram, set up af­ter a lengthy re­view, builds on the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Corp. con­cept, which aimed to give spe­cial re­wards to coun­tries that seek to im­prove their own devel­op­ment and gov­er­nance in spec­i­fied ways.

Aides to Obama ac­knowl­edged that the new ap­proach would mean shift­ing aid from some coun­tries to oth­ers, but they were vague on spe­cific cut­backs.

The pres­i­dent named a few names. He sin­gled out Tan­za­nia as a coun­try that the U.S. would reach out to, and men­tioned the Ivory Coast as one nation that may not meet the new Amer­i­can cri­te­ria for as­sis­tance.

Obama said the new pro­gram would put a strong em­pha­sis on broad eco­nomic growth, of the kinds he said had turned South Korea “from a re­cip­i­ent of aid to a donor of aid.”

A con­sen­sus has de­vel­oped among ma­jor donor na­tions that money must be spent on more than food, health and ed­u­ca­tion — it should help build economies and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

Eco­nomic growth is “the force that has raised liv­ing stan­dards from Brazil to In­dia,” he said. “And it’s the force that has al­lowed emerg­ing African coun­tries like Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozam­bique to defy the odds and make real progress to­ward achiev­ing the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals, even as some of their neigh­bors — like [Ivory Coast] — have lagged be­hind.”

In re­gions where prob­lems are less acute, such as East­ern Europe and Latin Amer­ica, Obama aides said, help would prob­a­bly be re­duced, while the poor­est stretches of Africa and Asia could get more aid.

Aides said the United States in the past has of­ten seemed to just throw money at prob­lems. Obama has promised to dou­ble for­eign aid to $50 bil­lion a year by 2012, but he wants to make pro­grams more ef­fec­tive.

The pres­i­dent’s tough-love mes­sage echoed those of other lead­ers in New York gath­ered for the an­nual meet­ing of the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has called on de­vel­op­ing na­tions to take greater re­spon­si­bil­ity for their progress, and Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper urged greater ac­count­abil­ity from coun­tries that re­ceive aid.

The re­marks re­flect the con­cerns of donor na­tions about the stew­ard­ship of their con­tri­bu­tions at a time of global eco­nomic trou­bles and a drive for aus­ter­ity.

Yet hard times weigh on the re­cip­i­ent na­tions too. Lead­ers from African na­tions are seek­ing a greater com­mit­ment to help their con­ti­nent climb out of poverty.

Pri­vate aid groups have heard Amer­i­can lead­ers talk about fo­cus­ing their aid be­fore, but some ex­perts say Obama’s strat­egy could prove sweep­ing in its goals.

The pres­i­dent ap­pears to be propos­ing a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach, said Mark Quar­ter­man, di­rec­tor and se­nior ad­vi­sor of the Post-Con­flict Re­con­struc­tion Project at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. The ac­tual ef­fect de­pends on how the ideas are car­ried out, he said.

“We can only have a sense of how the prac­tice of devel­op­ment would change with more de­tails,” Quar­ter­man said. “The idea sounds very in­ter­est­ing, and U.S. for­eign as­sis­tance needs an over­haul, but the devil re­ally is in the de­tails.”

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