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State pursues local government focus in foreign relations

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Foreign policy and foreign relations efforts conducted by the State Department often rely on new state and local elected officials from the United States and other countries, says Reta Jo Lewis, special representative for global intergovernmental affairs at State.

Speaking at a Dec. 20 Center for Strategic and International Studies forum, Lewis said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants the department to engage with state- and local-level officials and other non-traditional partners because "anyone at any time can be a diplomat, all they have to do is press 'send.' Technology allows all of us to be connected."

Lewis, the first person to fill her position, says her office acts as an intermediary between federal agencies and local officials when those officials work with foreign governments and travel to engage in trade. "The only caution that was told to me was, 'just don't let them do a treaty,'" she said. One area of support includes helping local officials to develop export relationships and increase trade, as directed by President Obama's 2011 national export initiative.

In her experience, she says, mayors and governors don't want to work on crafting treaties; they tend to focus solely on the constituents they directly represent. They focus on building up their own community and developing trust with foreign leaders, but have always made it clear their role and scope is limited, Lewis says.

While 21st century foreign policy is a new game with new players, jurisdiction and authority still "rest in the federal government. It is exclusive, it's unified and it's also centralized," Lewis said.

For more:
- listen to the CSIS panel and interview with Jo Lewis

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