Bahai News - Clinton focuses on debt relief at prayer breakfast
Published Saturday, September 16, 2000
Clinton focuses on debt relief at prayer breakfast
Religious leaders gathered at White House hear
president call help for poor nations a `moral issue'
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON President Clinton focused attention on international debt
relief Thursday as more than 100 clergy and other religious leaders from
a variety of faiths gathered at the White House for the last annual
prayer breakfast in his term of office.
During his remarks, Clinton called alleviating the financial struggles
of Third World countries -- a stance that has gained widespread support
this year from the religious community -- ``a moral issue.''
``I think that it is very much in the interest of America to have
big, large-scale debt relief if the countries that get the relief are
committed to and held accountable to good governance and using the money
not to build up military power but to invest in the human needs of their
people,'' the president said.
The wealth of America should propel its citizens to want to help
others, Clinton told the gathering that included representatives of
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i, Hindu and Sikh communities.
``I do not believe that a nation, any more than a church, a
synagogue, a mosque, a particular religious faith, can confine its
compassion and concern and commitment only within its borders,
especially if you happen to be in the most fortunate country in the
world,'' Clinton said.
While Congress has supported forgiving bilateral debts -- owed to
the United States from poor countries -- Clinton said it still needs to
appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars for the Highly Indebted Poor
Countries Initiative that would forgive multilateral debts due to
organizations like the International Monetary Fund.
About 120 people packed the State Dining Room to hear the remarks
from Clinton, who also called on religious leaders' support for
relieving health and education crises in nations across the globe.
The president urged them to help him increase efforts to assist
countries fighting AIDS and drug research companies developing vaccines
for malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis, which he said are responsible for a
quarter of the world's deaths each year. He proposed increasing by $100
million the money spent by the United States on AIDS efforts and
instituting a billion-dollar tax credit for companies developing
``It ought to be an American obligation,'' he said. ``This is a
serious global problem.
Clinton also spoke of the need ``to do more to universalize
education so that everybody everywhere will be able to take advantage of
what we're coming to take for granted.''
As they dined on doughnut-shaped peaches and frittata with tomatoes,
the spiritual leaders took part in an almost two-hour discussion with
Afterward, several in attendance praised Clinton for his
encouragement of international debt relief.
Religious leaders, including Roman Catholic Archbishop Theodore
McCarrick of Newark, N.J., said U.S. decisions on debt relief will
influence other countries' decisions.
``If the United States fails to exercise leadership by providing
this extremely small portion of our budget for debt relief, other
creditors are possibly going to back out,'' said McCarrick, a member of
the board of Catholic Relief Services.
``We strongly urge Congress and the administration to work together
in these next few weeks to achieve full funding for debt relief.''
Episcopal Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts said relieving the
debts of poor countries is fiscally and morally prudent.
``This debt relief makes all kinds of sense,'' he said. ``It makes
common sense that the small budgets that most of these poor countries
have should not go for debt relief but should go for the education and
for the health, the prevention of AIDS, so desperately needed in these
Sister Christine Vladimiroff, chair of the board for Bread for the
World, a Christian organization that works against hunger, agreed.
``Poor country debt keeps children from getting the food and
education they need,'' she said. ``Debt relief is hunger relief. Debt
relief is medical care for children.''
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism, said debt relief is the latest of important topics
discussed at the breakfast, held annually during Clinton's
``This is an institution that President Clinton has helped
regularize,'' he said. ``This has been a remarkable set of
While previous presidents held ad hoc prayer breakfasts that aimed
to bring religious leaders together, Clinton took the concept further by
holding lengthy dialogues, Saperstein said.
``It's a substantive discussion about religious issues or how
religious values should affect American policy,'' he said.
©Copyright 2000. Akron Beacon Journal
Page last updated/revised 091600
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