Chairman Robert Menendez
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived in the United States for his first visit since his historic election victory. His trip comes at an important time. The U.S. and India are natural partners with shared values and common interests, yet we are far from realizing the full potential of our relationship to the mutual benefit of both of our countries.
On behalf of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and my Indian-American constituents in New Jersey, I welcome the Prime Minister to the United States. I am confident that his visit will reinvigorate and refocus our partnership so that concrete progress is made in a host of sectors.
India’s new government has won an historic mandate to deliver change and reform. We should be ready to help India meet these challenges – through policies that bolster trade and investment, strengthen defense cooperation, and deepen our security partnership.
The U.S. and India are engaged in a comprehensive set of diplomatic dialogue and working groups. This is a relationship that does not suffer from a lack of communication or familiarity. It has, however, unfortunately suffered from a lack of results. With a strong push from the Prime Minister, President Obama and Congress, the time is right for these dialogues to translate into action.
On the economic front, there is broad support in the U.S. for a more robust trade relationship with India. India has raised foreign investment ceilings in several sectors of the Indian economy, including defense, railways, e-commerce and insurance. These are important steps that have helped to ease some of the concerns American companies have had about barriers to entering the Indian market. However, more must be done and the U.S. and India should work together to address these remaining barriers as they hold back our companies and inhibit job creation.
On the economic front, there is broad support in the U.S. for a more robust trade relationship with India.
During his visit to India last summer, Vice President Biden laid out an ambitious trade target with New Delhi, calling for our annual bilateral trade to increase from $100 billion to $500 billion. This is where our relationship has the most room to grow. I expect that Prime Minister Modi and President Obama will reconvene the trade discussions this year, which will provide a platform to improve the economic and trade relationship. Prime Minister Modi’s visit will also present an opportunity to re-engage on World Trade Organization negotiations, where India’s concerns are the last remaining barrier to important agreement that will seek to ease hurdles to global trade.
The protection of intellectual property by India is another key concern for U.S. companies looking to do business in the country. I welcome the Indian government’s announcement that it will develop a comprehensive intellectual property rights (IPR) policy over the next six months. This review needs to open a door for significant reforms that improve the IPR environment so that businesses in both of our countries have the necessary legal protections. Business needs to deliver products to consumers without concern that their intellectual property is being stolen or pirated.
Thankfully, India is an indispensable partner of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region, and we have a shared national interest to defeat terrorism, prevent weapons proliferation, and maintain regional stability. As the international community works to confront ISIS, the U.S. and India should be prepared to increase counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation and coordination, and both sides should commit to a robust set of joint exercises.
In Afghanistan, India has been a key development assistance provider and supporter of the Afghan National Security Forces. As the United States seeks to bolster Afghanistan’s economic links in the region, India will continue to have a critical role to play in promoting trade within South and Central Asia.
I proudly represent a vibrant Indian-American community who are leaders across New Jersey in a multitude of sectors including business, medicine and law. We should be expanding the opportunities for deeper interaction among our citizens in all fields, especially education. The best and the brightest from both sides should be exchanging ideas and building on the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that exists in both countries.
The values shared between the United States and India are extensive and the potential for cooperation and progress is limitless. With Prime Minister Modi’s partnership, as well as active engagement by the Indian-American diaspora, we should have confidence in our ability to achieve results and work toward a more prosperous and secure future. I am proud to welcome Prime Minister Modi to the United States and wish him a successful visit.
Images of repression and brutality against peaceful protesters demanding democracy and the elimination of corruption are not limited to Ukraine.
In our hemisphere, Venezuelans are suffering at the hands of their own government. Violence and systematic human rights abuses have resulted in 41 dead, hundreds injured, and thousands detained.
These rights violations in Venezuela were chronicled this month by Human Rights Watch in a 103-page report, entitled "Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela's Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System."
The study pulls back the veil of President Nicolas Maduro's administration and shows its willingness to go to dangerous extremes to silence political dissent.
It depicts an unraveling situation in Venezuela far worse than suspected. The litany of rights violations is illustrated in graphic fashion: the unlawful use of force, violent mass arrests, crackdowns on free speech and press freedom, blanket denial of due process, and abuses in detention facilities, including electric shock torture.
Employing tactics perfected by the Cuban regime, marauding Venezuelan security forces are shown teaming up with armed gangs known as colectivos to beat unarmed demonstrators, firing live ammunition and tear gas canisters indiscriminately into crowds.
In one instance, according to the report, a member of the National Guard "stepped on (a young protester's) head and fired rubber bullets at point-blank range in his thigh. The shot struck a set of keys in his pocket, dispersing metal shards as well as rubber pellets into his leg." He was then taken to a military detention facility, denied medical treatment for hours, and lost so much blood that he was near death when finally permitted to see a doctor.
While pro-democracy protesters are not fault-free in the use of violence, the primary responsibility for the horrifying, unjustified use of force rests with Maduro and his band of apparatchiks.
Venezuela's alleged socialist paradise has morphed into a verifiable real-life nightmare.
At a time when many countries in the Americas are experiencing an economic ascent underpinned by growing middle classes, every indicator reveals that Venezuela is regressing at an alarming rate.
Frightening levels of criminal violence are coupled with economic freefall, punctuated by sky-high inflation and a scarcity of basic food items.
In Venezuela today, the rule of law is abandoned, the judiciary is hollowed out, freedom of the press is nonexistent, and corruption runs rampant. Drug traffickers collude regularly with government officials and the free flow of narcotics out of the country poses a threat to hemispheric security, as well as to the United States.
Last month, Maduro pleaded in The New York Times that "Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward" -- but instead, he has delivered discord and suffering.
With no alternative recourse against the crisis consuming their country, Venezuelan citizens young and old have been turning out in mass demonstrations since early February. Their courage has been met with repression, and the images flooding social media networks induce an outpouring of sympathy, mixed with terror and grief.
Attempts by South American governments and the Vatican to mediate talks between the Venezuelan government and political opposition have collapsed and mass arrests continue. The Organization of American States must take a forceful position and demand respect for human rights and democratic inclusion in Venezuela.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, playing the role of a bystander to this chaos is unacceptable.
My response to Maduro-inspired mayhem is authoring bipartisan legislation imposing targeted sanctions on those individuals responsible for violating the rights of peaceful demonstrators.
While designed to avoid hurting the Venezuelan people, these hard-hitting penalties include asset freezes and visa bans for high-ranking members of the Maduro administration who have terrorized large segments of the population with unflinching impunity.
The legislation also authorizes $15 million to defend human rights, support democratic civil society, and strengthen the rule of law.
The moment of action is upon us.
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will pass this legislation. As a nation of the Americas guided by principles of liberty and democracy, we are duty bound to respond when the light of freedom is threatened.
#SOSVenezuela is a constant refrain on social media networks, galvanizing international attention to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.
The U.S. Congress hears your cries and stands in solidarity.
I honestly don’t think there’s a person in the world today who hasn’t heard of the horrific abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram – which means “education is forbidden.” These girls have been separated from their families for weeks and – no doubt – are terrified. My thoughts – as a father – are with the girls and their parents.
Frankly, the fact that incidents like this are happening at all in the 21st century should be deeply troubling to every one of us. As parents – as human beings – we must insist women and girls be treated with dignity and allowed to live and learn in safety from extremism. Nick Kristof had it right when he wrote in the New York Times: ‘The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.’
While the scale of this incident is staggering, the Boko Haram threat isn’t new. They’ve led an escalating campaign of atrocities against their own people for years. They are extremists with a gangster-mentality who represent no interest but their own – targeting young women, young men, churches, schools. They do not represent Islam and their actions cannot go unanswered.
The mothers, activists, and concerned citizens who have taken their outrage to the streets and to social media deserve credit for focusing the world’s attention on this crisis and insisting that the Nigerian government bring them home. I’m glad a US team is now on the ground, but despite offers of assistance from the US and other international partners, the Nigerian government’s response to this crisis has been tragically and unacceptably slow. President Jonathan must demonstrate the leadership his nation is demanding.
The rise of groups like Boko Haram doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Nigeria has a long history of division along ethnic and religious lines – tensions that terrorists capitalize on. And as much as we’re appalled by the actions of Boko Haram in using societal fissures to create chaos and distrust, we should also be troubled by a record of excessive force and human rights abuses by Nigeria’s military in dealing with the Boko Haram threat.
It’s time we elevate the issue of sexual violence and violence against women in general to the international arena. And the time is now for Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women’s Act. The world is watching.
President Obama has now returned home after visiting Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. At each stop on his trip, a key question he confronted was whether or not the administration's "strategic rebalance" to Asia is real and enduring.
As we move into the 21st century, the economies of the Asia-Pacific region are increasingly important markets for U.S. exports. At the same time, an ever-larger proportion of global trade is passing through the region’s sea-lanes, underscoring the continued need for United States leadership to maintain maritime security and promote regional stability.
The strategic implications of Asia's dynamism are clear: Our future prosperity and security are intimately entwined with the prosperity and security of the Asia-Pacific region. U.S. policy and resources must reflect this reality and meet the strategic goals of enhancing prosperity, security, democratic values and human development in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Obama administration recognized this need when it committed to “rebalance” U.S. government attention and resources for the Asia-Pacific region. The strategy intends to strengthen U.S. economic, diplomatic, and security engagement throughout the region, both bilaterally and multilaterally, with a co-ordinated, “whole-of-government” approach to policy implementation. In concept, the rebalance stands out as one of the Obama administrations most far-sighted and ambitious foreign policy initiatives.
As cxhairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I believe that Congress has a duty and responsibility to assure national security resources are allocated efficiently and effectively to address U.S. foreign policy priorities -- and to promote the time, effort and attention needed to safeguard our security and prosperity, and advance our values. That includes such traditionally under-resourced but critical areas as Latin America, and it includes the rebalance as well.
Yet a recent report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finds that despite progress in some areas, implementation of the rebalance thus far has been uneven, and has created the risk that the rebalance may well end up as less than the sum of its parts.
To improve the effectiveness and sustainability of the rebalance policy and increase civilian engagement, strengthen diplomatic partnerships, and empower U.S. businesses, the United States should:
• Renew our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
• Ensure the close partnership between the military-security elements and the diplomatic, economic and civil society elements of the rebalance.
• Increase personnel and resources to the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs, and dedicate additional government resources to pursue trade agreements and promote U.S. businesses.
• Redouble efforts to support U.S. students to study in the region, ensure faster processing for non-immigrant visas for tourism and conferences, and increase resources for public diplomacy.
• Increase development assistance funding, public-private partnerships, and support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) programmatic efforts.
• Devote additional resources for regional institutions, including for maritime security issues; and,
• Ensure that human rights and civil society institution-building efforts are strengthened to help advance U.S. values and interests in the region.
Although the rebalance is not “only” about China it is certainly “also” about China. The rebalance should seek to shape and encourage the development of a positive and productive China that is fully supportive of cooperative and constructive regional norms and institutions, and that plays by regional rules-of-the-road and international law.
The Committee's report also recognizes that Congress has an important role to play in these efforts. We must ensure that the military and non-military aspects of the rebalance are coordinated and complementary. As a regional strategy, the rebalance cuts across a spectrum of U.S. interests, requiring intensive coordination across the whole of government.
Lastly, leaders in the United States must do more to make the case to the American people that the Asia-Pacific region deserves greater investment of government resources. Sustained engagement in the region requires promoting economic growth and safeguarding American interests.
The American people need to be engaged on just how and why, in the words of President Obama, “Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.”
The rebalance is underway. Now we must get it right.
On Saturday, Afghans will go to the polls to elect a new president, marking a critical turning point in Afghanistan’s history and our role in the country.
This election comes at an important time in U.S.-Afghan relations, which have been hindered by the erratic and often insulting behavior of President Hamid Karzai. The outcome will present an opportunity for the United States to redefine our relationship with Afghanistan in a way that addresses our shared security concerns and the long-term stability and viability of the country.
Make no mistake, the democratic transition to a new president would not be possible without the last 12 years of sacrifices made by the United States. The Afghan people and Americans owe a profound debt of gratitude to our armed forces, diplomats and U.S. Agency for International Development workers who helped transform Afghanistan from a failed state to fledgling democracy.
The United States has lost more than 2,300 servicemembers in Afghanistan and many thousands more have returned home with grievous injuries. USAID’s partner organizations have lost more than 400 people. We honor the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, the sacrifices made by their families and those who will bear lifelong wounds of war.
America’s investment and sacrifice have paid real dividends for the people of Afghanistan. Life expectancy has doubled. Maternal mortality has been cut in half. More than 9 million children are in school, 3.5 million of them girls, compared to 1 million in 2001.
The Afghan National Security Forces, which did not even exist in 2001, now have more than 350,000 personnel and are proving increasingly capable on the battlefield.
The Taliban, however, have made clear their desire to return Afghanistan to an era when it was one of the world’s most isolated and repressive countries. Women were publicly tortured and executed. Girls and women were prohibited from attending school. Al Qaeda was free to plan and launch attacks against the United States and our allies.
Though time may have stood still for the Taliban, it has not for the Afghan people. With support from the United States, they have proven they want a different future for their country. They have built schools and an increasingly open society — where women can run for parliament, join the security forces and participate in civil society.
Over the past two weeks, the Taliban have launched attacks in Kabul against election workers, democracy advocates and journalists in an effort to subvert the elections. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of men and women have signed up to monitor polling sites and millions have registered to vote. The Afghan people have shown they won’t be intimidated by the Taliban.
The commitment to Afghanistan and its future development, however, cannot be open-ended or without conditions. The United States can remain substantively engaged if three criteria are met.
First, the elections must be seen as credible and legitimate by the Afghan people and the international community. Afghan election monitors will be the eyes and ears for the world on Saturday and we look forward to their report. It should be clear that U.S. support could wither in the face of an illegitimate transfer of power.
Second, the new government must move swiftly to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington, which will provide the necessary legal protections for a small U.S. training and counterterrorism mission.
Third, the incoming government should recommit to a series of accountability measures to ensure that U.S. funding is not wasted. The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, agreed to in 2012, included a pledge by the international community to continue to provide development funding in exchange for concrete Afghan reforms. This framework provides a key starting point for dialogue with the new president.
By taking these steps, Afghanistan will begin to restore much of the goodwill that was lost during the final and frustrating days of the Karzai regime.
I am hopeful that the election will result in a smooth transfer of power, and that the will of the Afghan people will be represented in the results.
If successful, this transition will mark the first time in Afghanistan’s history that an elected president peacefully and democratically hands power to a successor. The United States is prepared to support one of our most important allies in the region — the Afghan people.