February 15, 2002 - Associated Press: Bush Lays Out Peace Corps Vision

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By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, February 15, 2002 - 7:25 pm: Edit Post

Bush Lays Out Peace Corps Vision

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Bush Lays Out Peace Corps Vision *

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Bush Lays Out Peace Corps Vision

Fri Feb 15, 5:32 PM ET

By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush (news - web sites) said Friday he is sending the Peace Corps into Afghanistan (news - web sites) for the first time since 1979 as part of an effort to double its presence around the world.

"Today the mission is needed more than ever," Bush said after the swearing-in of Gaddi Vasquez as the organization's new director.

Bush renewed his commitment to double the number of volunteers abroad to about 15,000 â a level not seen since 1966 â and to steer more of them to countries that he believes most misunderstand America.

He said that during a visit to Asia next week he will push Chinese officials to allow an expansion of the program there. Bush also said he will seek to place the first-ever volunteers in Azerbaijan, East Timor (news - web sites), Bosnia-Herzegovina, and return volunteers to Peru, Swaziland, Chad and Botswana.

"The Peace Corps volunteers carry the American idea with them," Bush said. "If we were not to allow the Peace Corps to expand, we would be doing exactly what the terrorists want us to do, and we're not going to let them cause us to abandon what we hold dear."

The president made his comments shortly after watching the swearing-in of Vasquez in the Oval Office.

Vasquez served as Orange County supervisor from 1987-1995. He was the state's highest-ranking elected Hispanic Republican and had close ties to then-Gov. Pete Wilson.

Vasquez resigned as supervisor after the Orange County investment pool lost nearly $1.7 billion and the county was forced to file bankruptcy in late 1994. He later became vice president in charge of public affairs at Southern California Edison (news - web sites) Co.

He gave Bush's presidential campaign $500 just after Bush won the California primary in 2000.

Former Peace Corps volunteers mounted a campaign to derail Vasquez's nomination, saying he lacked foreign policy experience, but the Senate confirmed him anyway.

Bush said a team is heading to Afghanistan in the next three weeks to address how the Peace Corps can assist that country in reconstruction. The State Department has cleared the mission, and is awaiting word from Kabul. The corps left Afghanistan 23 years ago when Soviet forces occupied the country.

The group will include about five former Peace Corps volunteers, current staff members and security experts, who will study construction, education, water and other potential projects the organization could help with, said Ellen Field, the corps' communications director.

In China, there has been an average of about 50 Peace Corps volunteers there at a time since 1993, she said. Bush promised to explore with Chinese officials next week the possibility of expanding the program, though Field said there was no firm target number.

The Peace Corps left Peru in 1977 after the government there accused volunteers of spying, a charge Field said was unfounded.

Field said the corps pulled out of Chad in 1998 after a rebel uprising and left Swaziland in 1996 for budget reasons. She said she did not know why it left Botswana in 1997.

East Timor plans to become independent of Indonesia this spring, and the corps plans a presence almost immediately, Field said. It has never had volunteers in Azerbaijan or Bosnia-Herzegovina, she said.

The Peace Corps is paid for and overseen by Congress. To double the number of volunteers, the president has requested an additional $200 million over the next five years, which would boost the corps' budget about 15 percent each year.

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