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Menendez Opening Remarks at Nominations Hearing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement at today’s nomination hearing for Admiral Harry Harris to serve as US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea; David Schenker to be the Assistant Secretary of State (Near Eastern Affairs); and Ambassador Tibor Nagy Assistant Secretary of State (African Affairs).

His remarks follow:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today. We have before us a panel of high-level nominees.  I am a bit dismayed that these nomination hearings have become one of the few opportunities the committee has to really engage on the Administration’s policies.  I have requested more hearings on more topics with Administration witnesses so this committee can exercise its oversight role, and I hope the Chairman will work with me on that going forward. 

Collectively, these nominees will be taking on some of the most pressing national security challenges at time when goodwill toward our country is on a steep decline, the Administration’s budget proposals are slashing non-military resources, and the crumbs of U.S. credibility were left somewhere between the summits in Canada and Singapore.

But on that note, I want to welcome all of the nominees today – you all have demonstrable records of service, expertise and experience in your chosen fields. 

Admiral Harris, you know that you have accepted this nomination at a time when our allies and adversaries are seriously questioning the U.S. commitment to Asia under the Trump Administration – and at a time when perhaps as never before adept and agile diplomacy is needed on the Korean Peninsula.  Like you, I am fully of the view that it is imperative that we improve our engagement across the region, especially with allies like the Republic of Korea politically, economically, and strategically.

President Trump blind-sided everyone, including South Korea, when he carelessly conceded to Kim Jung Un this week something North Korean has long wanted—the cessation of US-South Korean joint military exercises. 

In exchange for, well, apparently nothing.  So I am interested in your thoughts about how we strengthen the US-Korea alliance moving forward.

From your time as our Pacific Commander, you are well aware of the extent of our challenge with North Korea.  Thank you for your service.  As we consider the outcomes of the Trump-Kim meeting, any strategy to constrain North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs must start with our allies and partners and lead to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Mr. Schenker, in the Middle East, the Trump Administration’s strategy for the U.S. role in the region is somewhere between muddled and missing. 

If confirmed as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, you will have responsibility not only to craft and execute policy here in Washington, but also to drive diplomatic implementation in cooperation with our partners and allies. 

When it comes to Iran, I share the long-sought goal of stopping all of Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear threats. But I worry that the President’s actions have degraded the very partnerships we need to maintain unity of effort in countering the Iranian regime’s malign activities. 

Regarding Israel, I share the goal of ensuring that Israel has the resources and support she needs to defend herself.  But I worry that the President’s desire to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria while freezing our stabilization assistance programs and closing doors to refugees are tactics without strategy that, taken together, amount to an abdication of U.S. leadership.  

Over the past year, Bashar al-Assad facilitated the activities of violent extremists next door to Israel.  Iran is moving its proxies ever closer to Israel’s borders.  Lebanese Hezbollah is preparing for the next war.  And Russia has demonstrated neither the resolve nor the capability to curb Iran’s actions in Syria. 

And I hope you share Secretary Pompeo’s commitment—as expressed at his nomination hearing—to sustain programs that address conditions that give rise to transnational terrorist groups, including poor governance, lack of economic opportunity, corruption, and persistent human rights abuses. 

Finally, I am pleased the nominee to be Assistant Secretary for the Africa Bureau has an impressive record of service to this country. 

For decades, both Republican and Democratic Presidents, with the help of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, have undertaken an impressive set of initiatives over the years, including the African Growth and Opportunity Act, PEPFAR, MCC Compacts, and Power Africa.

The Administration has given us little encouragement on continued cooperation, however. 

The President’s unseemly comments about Africa and the steep budget cuts to the 150 account send an alarming signal.

While the Administration’s National Security Strategy made lots of promises about its engagement with Africa, the budget requested would in no way facilitate that strategy or secure our interests in countering ISIS or Al-Queda affiliates.

Perhaps most troubling, the Administration does not appear to have a whole-of-government approach towards Africa which places emphasis on all of the three D’s: Defense, Diplomacy and Development.  Take Niger: Niger is facing increasing security threats on three fronts. It is also ranked 187 out of 188 on the most recent Human Development Index. 

The U.S. military has over 800 soldiers deployed to Niger as part of our effort to help that government fight terrorism, four of whom have been killed.  We are building an airfield in Agadez. 

However we do not have a USAID mission in the country that could help support sustainable governance and economic growth.”