US commitment to Asia ‘undiminished’

The US commitment to Asia remains undiminished despite President Barack Obama’s absence from regional summits, Secretary of State John Kerry has said.

Mr Kerry was speaking at the start of the Apec summit in Indonesia.

Mr Obama cancelled his Asia trip after the partial US government shutdown.

John Kerry: Shutdown “an example of the robustness of our democracy”

The US government closed non-essential operations on Tuesday after Congress failed to agree a new budget. Thousands of federal employees have been sent home. Some are working but not paid.

US-EU trade negotiations have also been postponed because of the shutdown.

‘Robust democracy’

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Anthony ZurcherBBC News, Washington

This is the most recent example of the ongoing problem Mr Boehner has controlling the Republican caucus, especially a rebellious faction hailing from solidly conservative, mostly rural areas across the country.

They’ve been called the “suicide caucus” in reference to their disregard for their party’s survival. In national security debates, immigration reform, disaster relief, defence authorisations, and even agriculture funding, Mr Boehner has found his position undermined by these rebellious legislators.

But these representatives reflect the will of the voters who sent them to Washington, a decidedly different demographic than America at large.

This has forced Mr Boehner to operate more like the tolerant head of a coalition government than an iron-fisted speaker of a past era, who could make or break a politician’s career at will.

Republican ‘suicide caucus’

As world leaders began gathering for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Bali, Mr Kerry sought to allay concerns that Washington was reducing its global engagement.

“None of what is happening in Washington diminishes one iota our commitment to our partners in Asia,” he said.

He said the dispute with the Republicans in the US Congress was “an example of the robustness of our democracy”.

But at the same time, he urged Congress to think about how the US was perceived internationally when “we can’t get our own act together”.

Mr Kerry said areas where the shutdown was affecting US foreign policy funding included:

  • delays in security assistance for Israel
  • nearly all staff suspended at the treasury department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, which monitors sanctions on states like Iran

Mr Obama had been due to begin a four-nation Asian trip on Saturday, heading to Bali and Brunei before travelling on to Malaysia and the Philippines.

House Speaker Boehner: “This isn’t some damn game”

The White House said Mr Obama’s decision to cancel his Asia trip was made due to the “difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown”.

Republicans who control the House of Representatives refused to approve a budget, saying they would only do so if Mr Obama’s healthcare reform law was delayed or stripped of funding.

Mr Obama and the Democrats have refused, noting the law was passed in 2010, subsequently approved by the Supreme Court, and was a central issue in the 2012 election which Mr Obama won comfortably.

On Friday, Democrats and Republicans appeared no closer to finding a way out of the impasse.

US President Barack Obama: “Nobody is winning”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner insisted Mr Obama and Democratic Senate leaders open negotiations on the shutdown.

“All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion,” he said. “This isn’t some damn game.”

Mr Obama later said he was happy to hold talks with the Republicans, “but we can’t do it with a gun held to the head of the American people”.

The US also faces running out of money and defaulting on its debt if there is no agreement to raise government borrowing limits later this month.

‘Worse than 2008’

US officials had been due in Brussels next week to discuss a sweeping free trade pact designed to boost bilateral trade between the European Union and the US.

IMF head Christine Lagarde says it is “mission critical” that the situation is resolved

On Friday, US trade representative Michael Froman informed the EU that financial and staffing constraints made it impossible to send a full negotiating team to Brussels.

He stressed that Washington would continue working with the EU on drawing up the deal, but would have to wait until the shutdown was over.

Reacting to the US announcement, European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the delay was unfortunate.

“But let me underline that it in no way distracts us from our overall aim of achieving an ambitious trade and investment deal,” he added.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said warned earlier that a failure to raise the US debt ceiling would be a far worse threat to the global economy than the current shutdown.

She said it was “mission critical” that the US agreed a new debt limit.