Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson laid a wreath in a ceremony at the August 7th Memorial Park in Nairobi on Sunday in honor of the victims of the 1998 American Embassy bombing in the city. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson laid a wreath on Sunday at the August 7th Memorial Park here that commemorates a suicide truck bombing 20 years ago that killed more than 200 people. That attack may have done more to transform the State Department than any other event of the past 50 years.

In the wake of the 1998 attack, the department hired tens of thousands of security guards for posts around the world and made other changes that today cost nearly $7 billion annually, which is almost half of the $15 billion that Mr. Tillerson wants eliminated from the department’s budget.

Mr. Tillerson has twice proposed slashing the department’s budget to about $35 billion from about $50 billion, saying that doing so would return spending levels to those before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He is expected to testify on Capitol Hill in the next two weeks to explain his reasons for the proposed cuts, which have received a chilly reception in Congress.

Critics say those cuts are misguided and could even cost lives.

Mr. Tillerson is in the midst of a five-nation tour of Africa, his first as secretary of state, and the visit to the memorial park — an island of green space where the damaged American embassy once stood — was the most somber event of the trip. He laid a wreath at a wall with the names of the victims inscribed and then gave brief remarks.

“As all of you well know, in 1998 terrorists thought they could demoralize and destroy the Kenyan and American people by attacking the U.S. Embassy here in Nairobi,” Mr. Tillerson said. “Of course, they were wrong. Nearly 20 years later, we meet here to honor those who we lost and those who were injured.”

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