New Obama budget includes $1.5bn for Syria and neighbors

Money from U.S. intended to promote reforms and transitions in Middle East and North Africa

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U.S. President Barack Obama proposed spending $1.5 billion next year for the Middle East and North Africa, largely to address the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria as Washington steps up efforts to deal with three-year-long civil war.

Besides funding for Syria, the $1.5 billion is intended to promote reforms and transitions in the Middle East and North Africa, still feeling the effects of the Arab Spring revolts of 2011.

More than 140,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war and millions more have been forced from their homes. Some 2.5 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and other nearby countries, straining the governments of those countries.

Since 2011, Washington has provided $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees.

Overall, Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget request included $46.2 billion to fund the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

That total also included $4.5 billion to secure overseas personnel and facilities, including $2.2 billion for embassy security construction.

Security for U.S. diplomats has been a focus of intense scrutiny - particularly by Republicans in Congress - since the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

The $2.2 billion was recommended by the independent Accountability Review Board set up after the attack.

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