January 19, 2021

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing for Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee nomination hearing for Antony J. Blinken to be secretary of State.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement:

“The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.

“We have an important hearing this afternoon, obviously, as we talk about the president-elect’s nomination of Anthony J. Blinken to be secretary of State, and we’ll get to that very quickly.

“Every time I’m sworn in for a new term – as a matter of personal privilege, for just two minutes – every time I’m sworn in for a new term, I kind of think back. As I start my 41st year as a member of a Senate body, I’ve learned some things over that period of time. I spent 28 years in our state senate, over two decades leading it, and now 13 years here.

“Some things I’ve learned – if I can make, very briefly, an observation – if we treat each other with kindness and respect, we get things done. One of the best friends I had during my time in the state senate was the Democrat leader. We’re still close personal friends. My wife and I stay with him when we travel to North Idaho. He consults with me frequently and gives me advice, even when I don’t want it. And we have become and stayed very very good friends over the years. We always got things done in Idaho, and I hope that as we go forward, that we will do likewise here. This not only is beginning of my 41st year in a senate body, this will be my 53rd year married to my wife. After completing 36 elections, I consider that all quite an accomplishment.

“So with that, we’re going to proceed to hear from Mr. Blinken after we make our opening statements, but Senator Durbin has very very important matters that he must attend to. We’re honored to have him come and address this body. Senator Durbin, the floor is yours.

(Chairman Risch paused to allow Senator Durbin to introduce Mr. Blinken.)

“With all that said, today’s hearing is unquestionably significant. The secretary of State is one of, if not the most important nominations that a president makes. He represents our interests abroad, and is also looked to for defining America’s role and posture in the world.

“Over the past several decades, we have watched nations with authoritarian ideologies and imperial tendencies increasingly attempt to grow their influence on the world stage. And unfortunately that has happened with some success on their part. These countries challenge the very principles upon which the United States was founded – democracy and the rule of law.

“As the Biden Administration begins tomorrow, there are several key foreign policy issues that need immediate attention. 

“My most important concern, as Mr. Blinken and I talked about in my office not long ago, is Iran and the president-elect’s promise to return to the JCPOA. President Obama thought the JCPOA would empower Iranian moderates and see Iran abandon its nuclear weapons program, but this notion has proven misplaced. The Iranian regime cannot separate itself from its revolutionary ideology.

“The JCPOA provided very beneficial sanctions relief for Iran, yet failed to eliminate Iran’s support for terrorist proxies – therefore allowing them to fund terrorism across the region. The deal also included very short-sighted sunsets on Iran’s conventional weapons and ballistic missile programs, and allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“Any new deal with Iran must address all the facets of Iranian bad behavior, including its ballistic missile program and ending support for terrorism.

“I fully understand and I fully comprehend that people want to focus on their nuclear ambitions. But these people have other bad activities that they’re involved in that also need to be addressed.

“Unfortunately, the Iranian regime thinks it has successfully waited out the maximum pressure program that we’ve had in place. Only time will tell if they’re right. At the time, President Obama used the extensive sanctions regime Congress created as leverage to begin the JCPOA talks, and so he should have. President-elect Biden should take advantage of the significant leverage that has been provided through maximum pressure program and negotiate a new deal that includes Iran’s regional aggression. A policy of containment, rather than appeasement, is the only approach that will be successful.

“However, any discussions with Iran should begin and end with our allies in the region. Israel, and many of our other allies, felt the United States abandoned them and their security concerns during the JCPOA negotiations. With U.S. leadership over the last four years, our relations were rebuilt and paved the way for the Abraham Accords.

“The Abraham Accords signed last year were a significant step in fundamentally improving the security, economic, and diplomatic environment in the Middle East, but they also underscored the significant threat that Iran poses to our regional partners. I would hope future negotiations with Iran would include extensive consultations with not just Congress, but also with Israel, and our Gulf partners. And given its significant implications, any new deal should also be submitted as a treaty for Senate ratification. 

“I understand that that’s a controversial issue. But, if we’re going to have the support of the United States, it can’t just be one branch of government. It needs to be all branches of government.

“I hope that the Biden Administration will adhere to these conditions before and during any engagement with Iran. I sincerely appreciate, Mr. Blinken, your offer that prior to beginning or ending these negotiations, there will be significant consultation with this committee. I greatly appreciate that.

“Another area of serious concern with the new administration obviously is China – which I believe to be our greatest foreign policy challenge of this century.

“On a personal note, I want to thank you, Mr. Blinken, for having read the report – the 143 page report that I published just recently. And I also appreciate the kind words that you had for the conclusions and suggestions in that report.

“China is a strategic and global competitor of the United States, and the Chinese Communist Party routinely engages in economic coercion, military aggression, human rights abuses, and influence operations. Its policies deliberately damage U.S. interests and values.

“In the face of the CCP’s dangerous goals, the United States must maintain a strong, competitive stance. Rising to this challenge is now a sprint and a marathon, that will require sustained political will, expanded cooperation with allies and partners, and properly aligned resources and personnel.

“Last year, I introduced the STRATEGIC Act, the first comprehensive legislative proposal to compete with China effectively. This bill was written with Democratic senators’ input and other Democratic organizations around this city who are in the think tank business along with Republican think tanks. And it should be noted that China is not a partisan issue – it is an American issue. I know Senator Menendez has strong concerns in this regard also, and I hope we will work together as we move forward with those challenges. I hope and expect that the Biden Administration will pursue bipartisan cooperation on the challenges posed by the CCP.

“One of those challenges is Taiwan. The PRC’s obliteration of Hong Kong’s autonomy last year makes the question of Taiwan’s future all the more urgent and serious. China’s military modernization and expansion has dramatically shifted the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific: this is eroding conventional deterrence, putting the U.S. military, as well as Indo-Pacific allies and partners, at risk. Taiwan is among the strategically consequential issues and should remain a key strategic priority.

“Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved into the largest, most destructive global health emergency in more than a century. More than 83 million people have been infected and 1.8 million people have died. Economies have been upended, schools and offices closed, and livelihoods destroyed. It will take years to recover from this global health catastrophe.

“There is a lot we still do not know about COVID-19, but two things are clear. Its global spread was accelerated by catastrophic failures at all levels of the existing global health security architecture. And, unless we do something now, it will happen again.

“Last year, I launched an effort to help the United States and our international partners get ahead of the next pandemic. I, along with my committee colleagues, pressed the WHO to launch an independent, interim review of its response to the outbreak, so we could figure out what worked, what didn’t, and how to prepare for future outbreaks. The WHO ultimately followed our suggestion. If you are confirmed, I am committed to working with you, Mr. Blinken, to advance reforms at the WHO that will help restore public confidence and enable it to more effectively respond to crises in real time.

“I, along with Senators Murphy, Cardin, and Portman, also introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the ability of the United States and our international partners to detect, prevent, and respond to outbreaks before they become pandemics. I’m well aware that Senator Menendez also has a strong interest in this area, and I look forward to working with him and with the committee as we move legislation forward. This bill, the Global Health Security and Diplomacy Act, provides much-needed leadership and direction for U.S. global health security efforts overseas, and also incentivizes greater leadership and investment by others. I am also eager to work with you, Mr. Blinken, if confirmed, to further refine and enact this important legislation. 

“Over the last five years, the world has seen dramatic change, and it is imperative policies are updated to reflect these new realities. 

“I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these important issues, and I thank you for being here today. And I thank you and your family for the willingness to take on the sacrifice to serve in this important position. With that, Senator Menendez, the floor is yours.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.

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