May 19, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing for Assistant Secretaries Of State

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee nomination hearing for the Honorable Brian A. Nichols, nominee to be assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, and the Honorable Michele Jeanne Sison, nominee to be assistant secretary of State for international organization affairs.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to both of you for your willingness to serve – certainly outstanding credentials. It is not often we see a panel like this with the depth of experience that the two of you have.

“I want to start where the chairman started and that is on issues in the Western Hemisphere.

“I am increasingly concerned that while a majority of nations in our hemisphere are considered democracies, authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba have systematically dismantled democratic institutions and have committed some of the world’s worst human rights abuses. These bad actors undermine their own countries, but they also undermine their neighbors.

“Transnational criminal organizations and malign state actors benefit from and contribute to these authoritarian regimes, and pose a significant threat to the peace and stability of our hemisphere.

“More broadly, I remain exceedingly concerned about the malign influence of China and Russia throughout our hemisphere and the apparent increase of that.

“China’s predatory lending practices, and spread of corruption threaten the sovereignty and the privacy of our southern neighbors.

“At the same time, Russia has exported repressive tactics to allow authoritarian regimes to maintain control and crackdown on dissent.

“Beyond external malign influence, poor governance, violence, and lack of economic opportunity in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have prompted waves of illegal migrants to show up at our Southern door.  

“The previous administration negotiated a number of agreements with these countries, and the current administration’s failure to capitalize on those agreements has only fueled a surge of migrants over the past few months along with other precipitating factors, and demonstrates a significant challenge to our government’s ability to protect our homeland.

“Lastly, as you may know, Ambassador Nichols, the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada is a great example of two nations managing a shared resource. I want to impress upon you the importance of a successful and timely conclusion to these negotiations for the entire northwest congressional delegation. As you know, a number of us on a bipartisan basis have been working diligently with the department to move the negotiations forward. We stand ready to continue to assist the administration however we can in this effort.

“I look forward to hearing your thoughts on all of these important matters.

“Next we have the nomination for assistant secretary of State for international organization affairs. This position oversees a wide range of multilateral organizations, the largest being the United Nations.

“The United States remains the biggest donor to the U.N. in both assessed and voluntary funds. While, the Chinese Communist Party has increased its assessed dues, it still severely lags behind the United States and our allies in voluntary contributions. 

“The Chinese Communist Party uses its minimal donations to leverage a large scale malign influence campaign to “reform global governance” as they call it. Such that the international system is more conducive to its own interests.  

“As detailed in my report last fall on transatlantic cooperation on China, the Chinese Communist Party does so, in part, by inserting favorable language into U.N. resolutions, orchestrating the election of its top diplomats at U.N. agencies, and using its veto power as a member of the U.N. Security Council to block efforts to expose human rights violations.

“This fall, the United States will have an opportunity to negotiate the scales of assessment of U.N. peacekeeping to be consistent with U.S. law. Currently, the United Nations assess the United States at 27.9%. As you know, this is not congruent with U.S. law.

“No country should pay more than 25%, and in 1994, the Congress of the United States enacted a bill that imposed a 25% cap on U.S. contributions for this program – that law remains in effect today. This mandate should be upheld during the upcoming negotiations. I remind the administration that this is U.S. law, and it must be used in their negotiating position. 

“I also remain really concerned by the administration’s recent decision to resume funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, also known as UNRWA. This was done without securing, without insisting on, without even asking for any reforms.

“Over the years, the agency has employed individuals affiliated with Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization. UNRWA schools have been used to store Hamas weapons, and there have been numerous cases of UNRWA textbooks containing material that is anti-Semitic. U.S. government assistance to UNRWA should cease unless true reform as described above is secured.

“Finally, I’m also concerned by the administration’s decision to seek a seat at the U.N. Human Rights Council, again without seeking any reforms.

“The council is a broken body that focuses a majority of its time on bullying our ally Israel and allows some of the greatest human rights abusers like China, Cuba, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela a seat at the table. I know it’s a bumper sticker to say, “we’re always better off with a seat at the table when issues are being discussed, rather than not being there.” But that isn’t always true. Particularly in this insistence when you’re sitting there rubbing elbows with the worst human rights abusers on the planet. Only true reform will bring legitimacy back to that council, and the administration should work to secure substantial changes.

“With that, I thank both of you for being here today, your willingness to serve, and recognize the sacrifices of both you and your families in this effort.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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

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