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Romney touts foreign aid overhaul in appearance at Clinton Global Initiative

Mitt Romney unveiled his plan for a public-private partnership on foreign aid aimed at fostering free enterprise in developing countries during an address Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Former President Bill Clinton, who has emerged as a key figure in President Obama’s reelection efforts, introduced Romney. Clinton has been a prominent figure on the campaign trail supporting Obama and has appeared in attack ads against Romney.

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The pair received a standing ovation as they walked out onstage together. Romney joked about Clinton’s well-received speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, in which the former president offered a stinging critique of the GOP presidential nominee, and how Obama benefited from it.

“I appreciate your kind words and that introduction is very touching,” Romney said. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this election, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a lot of good.

“All I have to do now is wait a couple days for that bounce to happen,” Romney quipped.

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In his remarks, Romney said his economic message of championing free enterprise could be combined with federal foreign aid to better position unstable developing countries for long-term growth.

Romney’s “Prosperity Pacts” would encourage private companies to leverage federal aid in investments in developing countries. The aid would be conditional upon the removal of economic and social barriers in those countries.

“The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise,” Romney said. "Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America’s own economy–free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation."

Romney argued that federal aid to foreign nations, as it exists now, is too often wasted by government bureaucracy, and sometimes “diverted to corrupt governments.”

“Too often our passion for charity is tempered by the sense that our aid is not always effective,” Romney said. “We wonder why years of aid and relief seem never to extinguish the hardship, why the suffering persists decade after decade.

Clinton's annual conference in New York City brings together global leaders to discuss solutions to various world problems. Obama is addressing the gathering later in the day.

Romney took a swipe at Obama’s economic stimulus package by comparing it to the way foreign aid is presently disbursed.

“A temporary funding package can give an economy a boost, but it can’t sustain an economy - not for long. It can’t pull the whole cart because at some point, the money runs out,” Romney said. “We’ll couple aid with trade and private investment and partnerships to empower individuals, encourage innovators and reward entrepreneurs.”

Romney said 82 percent of foreign investment comes from the private sector, which “may be able to exponentially expand the ability to … change lives” and provide greater access to capital in emerging markets.

“Free enterprise, as we know, has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system,” Romney said. “For American aid to become more effective, it’s got to embrace … the power of partnerships, of free enterprise … and leverage the abundant resources that come from the private sector.”

In his speech, Romney acknowledged the turmoil that has rocked the Middle East in recent weeks, saying “religious extremism is part of the problem,” and seemed to hit Obama for not leading.

“A lot of Americans are troubled by developments in the Middle East,” he said. “We somehow feel that we’re at the mercy of events rather than shaping events.”

Romney said unrest in these countries could in part be mollified if more opportunities were available to the youth. He said he was “touched” by the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the street vendor whose self-immolation in part sparked the Arab Spring.

“I just want to work,” Bouazizi said after his street cart was shut down by public officials.

“I just want to work,” Romney reiterated. “That has to be at the heart of our effort to help people.”