September 15, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Nominations Hearing for Assistant Secretaries, Representative to NATO, Ambassador to France

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 Julieta Valls Noyes, nominee to be assistant secretary of State for population, refugees, and migration, the Honorable Denise Campbell Bauer, nominee to be ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the United States to the French Republic, Ms. Julianne Smith, nominee to be United States permanent representative on the council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Honorable Barbara A. Leaf, nominee to be assistant secretary of Near Eastern affairs. 

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And first of all, regarding the nominees, I appreciate the conversation and we will continue that. I committed to you and continue to commit to you that I will work in good faith to get these people in place. I was a governor, I understand that you can’t operate unless you have your team in place.

“You and I have worked hard to get them to the floor, and as we both know, that’s got a special problem that neither you nor I have control over. I get a lot of complaints that you and I can’t deal with because it is a floor problem. But, I’ll continue to work in good faith and see if we can’t move these forward.

“I thank all of you for taking the opportunity and undertaking the privilege of serving the United States in these important positions. And your families, as the chairman mentioned. This is a sacrifice that is bore equally by the families.

“I want to talk briefly about each of these. First of all, for the assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs.

“The Middle East region remains shaped by seemingly intractable problems, including Arab-Israeli tensions, the continued export of Iranian terrorism, the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen, and growing Chinese and Russian encroachment.

“I’m concerned that the current administration’s approach to these dilemmas appears to not strike the appropriate balance, and runs the risk of ceding the region to other malevolent powers. I think everyone knows of what I speak there.

“The administration’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a strategic unforced error as both the chairman and I focused on yesterday. Additionally, its diplomatic embrace of the Iranian regime is hard to understand. The lack of focus on the Abraham Accords is befuddling to say the least. Increased barriers to conventional arms transfers, and the chilling of relations with our traditional Middle Eastern partners will send a message of American disengagement, which I do not believe that we want to do.

“The Abraham Accords, I think especially, need to be embraced. They need to be enhanced. They need to be further moved forward. As I watch the administration, I think there is a lot of reluctance simply because it was an action by the previous administration. But, that was a tremendous success and we should celebrate it and exploit it as best we can.

“Like the chairman, I don’t understand what Syria policy is today. We need to understand that. I hear rumors and they are hopefully not true about the administration’s thoughts regarding Assad and its rehabilitation or remaining in place. That is a wrongheaded approach. But in any event, we do need an approach that everyone understands.

“Now is the time for the United States to reinforce that we stand with our partners and are up to the challenge. I expect to hear how you plan to improve our engagement in the region and address the serious risks ahead of us. 

“Next we have the nominee for assistant secretary of State for population, refugees, and migration.

“The administration’s botched evacuation from Afghanistan has resulted in thousands of refugees and internally displaced people inside the country. Taken with the ongoing refugee crises endured by Syrians, Venezuelans, and the Rohingya, we now face the world’s largest refugee and migration numbers ever.

“Through the bureau of population, refugees, and migration, the U.S. government provides significant assistance to humanitarian partners – including the United Nations. It is crucial that we ensure all of this assistance meets U.S. national security needs and receives proper oversight. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these issues.

“I also remain deeply concerned with the Biden Administration’s decision to restart funding to UNRWA. This organization has a history of using textbooks which incite violence against Israelis as well as employees with ties to Hamas. We should secure true reforms before giving another dime to this organization.

“Moving on to the nominee for U.S. ambassador to NATO.

“NATO is the world’s most successful political-military alliance in history. But it is 72 years old, and must be flexible to meet new challenges. NATO will need to continue to deal with Russia and aggression on its southern border. It must also be aware of China’s growing direct threat to the alliance. The balance of power in the world today is incredibly different than what it was 72 years ago.

“Last year’s NATO 2030 report attempted to address some of these emerging issues. It recommended that NATO’s Strategic Concept be updated to address China-related issues, as well as ways that allies can improve political coordination. I hope to see these recommendations followed.

“NATO is also a nuclear alliance. Membership in the Nuclear Ban Treaty is incompatible with being a NATO member. We must push back strongly on any efforts by NATO members to lend credibility to that treaty or to weaken our nuclear sharing arrangements.

“Lastly, I am worried by the disregard we showed our NATO allies in our hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. This administration has repeatedly emphasized the importance of our allies, yet the way we went about this evacuation has sent our partners the exact opposite message. Our allies deserve better, especially after invoking Article 5 following the 9/11 attacks and fighting alongside our troops for more than 20 years. They are livid. I think everyone in this room knows that, and it will be your job to fix that.

“Finally, we have the nominee for ambassador to France and Monaco.

“The United States has long enjoyed close relations with France, and it remains one of our closest allies.

“In Africa, I look forward to continued engagement with our French partners on important challenges, including in the Sahel, Cameroon, the DRC, and the Central African Republic, to ensure we pursue mutually beneficial approaches.

“France’s Ambassador here in the United States is an excellent friend and ally, and I have seen and experienced France’s desire for a stronger alliance firsthand. Now is a critical time for us to make real progress in the relationship. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

“With that, I’ll turn it back over to Senator Menendez.”

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

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