March 06, 2019

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing For Ambassadors to Saudia Arabia and Iraq

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a hearing on two nominations. The nominees are General John Abizaid to be Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and Ambassador Matthew Tueller to be Ambassador to Iraq. 

Chairman Risch delivered the following opening remarks:

"As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, we have a shared security interest with Saudi Arabia in combating Sunni extremism and Iranian influence in the region, and we should not lose sight of that.

 "At the same time, I think all of us have serious concerns over events surrounding the Saudi Kingdom, and the Saudi GCC rift with Qatar has made difficult the U.S. efforts in the Gulf Arab unity against Iran.

"We look forward, General Abizaid, to hearing how you plan to work with Saudi officials to advance U.S. objectives on a long, wide range of issues, including Saudi’s role in the Yemen conflict, the GCC crisis with Qatar, and reported human rights abuses.

 "In addition to that we welcome Mr. Tueller regarding the Iraq post. There remain ongoing tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds, as we all know, particularly in the north. Repairing this relationship needs to be a priority for the United States. The Kurds have been a good friend of ours, are an ally of ours, and it’s important that the relationship in Iraq be repaired.

 "This comes at a time when the Iraqi parliament is preparing to debate a resolution that would significantly affect the U.S. military presence there. 

 "This is a hugely concerning prospect, and I look forward to hearing from you how we can work together to communicate our shared security interests with officials in Iraq.

 Additional remarks:

 "Gentlemen, thank you to both of you for being willing to take this on, as both myself and the ranking member have stated in our opening statement. We have tried to tee up for you to answer some of the questions that are really challenging – with about everybody that comes here, we talk about the challenging conditions of the countries they are going to. Both of these are very, very unique challenges.

"We hear a lot of talk on this committee – from the administration, from the media, from all of the opinion writers – about the problem of reconciling the United States’ interests in having a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and reconciling how we’re going to do that, while at the same time – as the ranking member pointed out – Saudi Arabia has engaged in acts that just are simply not acceptable. Unfortunately, as I said, we hear a lot of descriptions about the problem but we don’t hear any answers. There have been some modest suggestions that have been made, none of which would resolve the problem, I don’t think.  It is an ongoing conversation that the ranking member and I are having, and that we are having internally amongst this committee – sometimes publicly, sometimes privately – and likewise between the committee and the administration. 

"Knowing that you don’t have a silver bullet or a magic answer, we do want to hear your thoughts, your comments, analysis, and maybe even some helpful suggestions as we go forward, because everyone agrees: we’ve got to go forward to reconcile these two very competing things. 

"Iraq is not totally dissimilar, but again there are the kinds of things that are going on there that make it very difficult for us to operate. But, it is essential that we have a relationship with Iraq and it be in the best interests – it has to be in the interest of both countries or it won’t be a relationship."

Testimony from the nominees is available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing. 

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