April 15, 2021

Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on Nominations for Senior State Department Posts

“It is time for the United States to step up and speak out on democracy. And I expect that both of you will help lead the charge to restore democracy throughout the world.”

WASHINGTON —  U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s full Committee hearing on the nominations of Victoria Nuland to be Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Uzra Zeya to be Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

“At this pivotal moment for our foreign policy, for democracy, and for the State Department, I am heartened that President Biden nominated both of you,” Chairman Menendez said. “You are experienced and accomplished diplomats and you have both demonstrated the strength and commitment necessary to defend our values.”

“We are in the midst of a 15-year democratic recession. From Nicaragua to Hungary, democracy is marching backwards. Even worse, authoritarians are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to steamroll free and fair elections, independent media, and other hallmarks of democracy,” Chairman Menendez added. “It is time for the United States to step up and speak out on democracy. And I expect that both of you will help lead the charge to restore democracy throughout the world.”

Find a copy of Senator Menendez’s remarks as delivered below:

“Let me turn to our two nominees. Ambassador Nuland, Ms. Zeya, congratulations on your nominations, and our thanks to you both for your willingness to return to the State Department and distinguished careers in the Foreign Service.

At this pivotal moment for our foreign policy, for democracy, and for the State Department, I am heartened that President Biden nominated both of you. You are experienced and accomplished diplomats and you have both demonstrated the strength and commitment necessary to defend our values.

The positions you have been nominated for – Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights – are among the most important in the Department.

Ms. Zeya, I understand that the distinguished Senator from Virginia is going to introduce you this morning. So I will turn to him at this time. Senator Kaine?

Thank you, Senator Kaine for that robust endorsement of Ms. Zeya.

The State Department faces unprecedented challenges – from restoring America’s place in the world to managing the health and economic crises created by COVID-19. And China and Russia are at the top of the list of foreign policy crises confronting America today.

As you know well, Ambassador Nuland, the United States needs to act now to stop a resurgent Russia, with Putin once again threatening Ukraine, continuing his attacks on our democracy, and threatening his grip on the Russian people and those who dare to oppose him.  

I want to applaud the administration for the actions that were announced today. Were robust. It’s the type of action I would have wanted to see. I look forward to their continuing engagement.

On China, we must both confront Chinese attempts to undermine democracy and human rights and compete with them economically. That is why I am pleased that Senator Risch and I have authored a bipartisan bill, which will make the United States competitive with China and provides us with a clear and coherent national security strategy on China.

While I look forward to a more in-depth discussion on Russia and China during our time for questions, I want to quickly highlight three additional policy areas: Iran, Turkey, and the Western Hemisphere. 

Although I did not support the JCPOA, I felt strongly that the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw without a coordinated diplomatic strategy would embolden Iran and leave us less safe. And Iran’s behavior has only validated my predictions.

I recently led a bipartisan letter supporting a diplomatic path forward. But let me be clear, that path must go beyond the scope of the JCPOA. I expect that this Administration will pursue what the President and the Secretary themselves have endorsed – a stronger and longer agreement. And I will expect you to provide the Committee with details on any agreement and on exactly what longer and stronger means.

Iran, not surprisingly, is seeking to control the timetable for these discussions by taking provocative actions against vessels in the Arabian Gulf and U.S. military facilities in Iraq.

In Turkey, President Erdogan got a free pass from the previous administration, and we are seeing the effects – the purchase of a Russian missile system, military aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria, and bellicose actions against Greece and Cyprus. Long considered a NATO ally, Turkey seems to want to break with the us instead of be our partner. I don’t agree with Erdogan’s choice, but we must begin to reorient ourselves in the eastern Mediterranean towards democracies that share our values and our security interests. The Administration has an important opportunity here. I hope that they seize it.

Finally, in our own hemisphere, we must strengthen our alliances and address forced migration. I am particularly concerned about the challenges Colombia — our top strategic partner in Latin America — currently faces, including the monumental task of implementing the 2016 peace accord, the violence related to drug trafficking, and the destabilizing influence of the Maduro regime’s crimes against humanity in Venezuela.

Ms. Zeya, I cannot close today without raising a crisis that goes to the core of American values and American leadership - the state of democracy around the world.

We are in the midst of a 15-year democratic recession. From Nicaragua to Hungary, democracy is marching backwards. Even worse, authoritarians are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to steamroll free and fair elections, independent media, and other hallmarks of democracy. And they have assumed that their violations will be met with little resistance.

It is time for the United States to step up and speak out on democracy.

And I expect that both of you will help lead the charge to restore democracy throughout the world.

At a time of unprecedented challenges around the world, America needs outstanding leadership at the State Department.

I have no doubt that you are both up to that task.

But I expect to hear from both of you today about how you plan to restore America’s place in the world, repair democracy, and confront the immense challenges facing us.

I look forward to your testimony and now turn to the Ranking Member for his opening comments.”

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