Kerry urges Congress to end shutdown

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BALI, Indonesia — Congress needs to think “long and hard about the message” the partial government shutdown sends overseas about U.S. credibility, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday, urging lawmakers to “end it now, end it today.”

The furlough of U.S. government workers is imperiling American interests worldwide, including by delaying security assistance to Israel and potentially weakening enforcement of sanctions against Iran, Kerry told reporters at the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bali.

Kerry is standing in for President Barack Obama after he canceled his trip to Asia to seek an end to the impasse with Republicans in Congress who are demanding changes to the president’s health insurance legislation.

Obama’s absence meant he could not hold planned meetings with the leaders of Russia and China, which hurts his agenda in the short term, Kerry said.

Obama’s absence may add to growing anxiety in Asia that the United States is too preoccupied with internal political challenges to pursue its so-called “Asia pivot,” his second-term foreign- policy priority to enhance America’s standing in a region adjusting to China’s economic and military emergence. The U.S. is seeking to boost defense ties with the region and finalize the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

Kerry insisted the shutdown won’t have a long-term impact on U.S. foreign policy or Obama’s economic agenda, calling it “political silliness” forced upon the country by the House of Representatives. He urged “all of our friends and foes watching around the world” to “not mistake this momentary episode in American politics” as anything more than that.

“Momentary disruption always has the ability to have an impact,” Kerry said, calling the shutdown a distraction in Washington and an “opportunity for mischief” by those who oppose U.S. policies.

APEC leaders gathering in Bali understand Obama’s decision and would have done the same if they were in his shoes, Kerry said. Obama had been presented a challenge “by a small group of people within one branch of the United States Congress.”

“It is not only within Congress’s power to prevent the shutdown, it is also within Congress’s power to end it, to end it now, to end it today,” he said.

Obama informed the leaders of the host countries of APEC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nation summits, Indonesia and Brunei, of his decision by phone late Thursday, according to the White House. Earlier this week, he called off planned stops in Malaysia and the Philippines scheduled for the end of what would have been a week-long visit to the region.

U.S. exports to the Pacific Rim rose to $326.4 billion in 2010, from $254.6 billion in 2009, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

“This is a serious blow to U.S. diplomacy,” said Ken Lieberthal, who served as Asia director of the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. “This development cannot but affect views in Asia” on the president’s “ability to deliver on commitments.”

The U.S. has played a crucial role in past APEC and Asean meetings and sending Kerry in Obama’s place “is very different from having the president show up,” Lieberthal, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said by e- mail.

Obama’s absence will be made more notable by China’s diplomatic push around the meetings. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Indonesia and announced plans to boost defense and security cooperation with Malaysia after meeting with Prime Minister Najib Razak near Kuala Lumpur.

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang plans to attend the Asean meeting and then make official visits to Thailand and Vietnam, Qin Gang, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.

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