U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is appealing to wealthy countries not to cut development aid or resort to protectionist trade practices in the face of the global economic crisis.  VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department that Rice was the opening speaker at a White House-organized summit on international development.

The White House summit was organized in part to highlight foreign aid efforts by the Bush administration, which Rice says collectively amount to the biggest U.S. international development initiative since the post-World War Two Marshall Plan.

But the proceedings have been overshadowed by the global  market and credit crisis and there is deep concern among participants that U.S. and other world development aid will fall victim to crisis-related austerity moves.

In her opening address, Rice said moves to trim foreign aid and protect home markets are understandable under the circumstances, but in the long run, counterproductive.

"When times are hard, as they are now, every nation is focused on protecting its own interests.  That is entirely legitimate and it is to be expected.  But what we cannot do, what we must not do, is to allow our generosity and our concern for others to fall victim to today's crisis.  Reneging on our commitments to the world's poor cannot be an austerity measure," she said.

Rice said while recent foreign-aid budgets might now seem unaffordable, the world cannot afford not to come to the aid of poor, weak and poorly governed third-world states that could be sources of regional or global instability.

The secretary also warned of the slide into trade protectionism that economists believe made the economic depression of the 1930s even worse.  She said completion of the stalled Doha round of international tariff-cutting negotiations would send a powerful signal that the world's response to the current crisis will be fundamentally different than the past.

Rice was followed to the podium by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who praised U.S. aid to her country following its civil war, and said the world looks to the United States to lead the way out of the current crisis.

"Developing countries will be looking to the United States to step up during these turbulent times and emerge as the true global leader for democracy, stability and expanding economic opportunities for the poor," she said. "Strong global leadership and vision, alongside local country commitment, is needed now more than ever."

The elected Liberian leader said her country is now well on its way to stability and can be a model for a West African region known in the recent past for civil warfare, warlords, child soldiers and so-called blood diamonds.