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Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Nominations Hearing

Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s nominations hearing.

“On our first panel today we have the nominees for U.S. Ambassadors to Egypt, Iraq, and Qatar.

“In Egypt, on Sunday, former Minister of Defense Field Marshall Sisi was sworn into office. But, as we all know, a sustainable democratic transition is about more than elections. I remain concerned by the state of media repression in Egypt, intimidation and detention of activists, mass death sentences, and the disproportionate use of force by Egypt’s security services. That said – the people of Egypt have taken to the streets to protest successive governments , and there is no reason not to expect protests again if the Sisi government is unable to deliver on its promises.

“Ultimately, my goal is to find a way forward for the U.S.-Egypt partnership, which means maintaining the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt and a strong defense and counterterrorism partnership.

“When it comes to assistance, continued U.S. aid must be based on the totality of our shared interests and this now includes the Egyptian government taking steps toward a sustainable democratic transition. This is not only my view, but a legal requirement of the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act. That said – I look forward to hearing Ambassador Beecroft’s views.

“In Iraq, while political leaders are deal-making to form a government, the Iraqi people are not benefiting from their country’s increased oil output, and the conflict continues to surge in western Iraq as the spill-over from Syria has enabled the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to take hold.

“Clearly, we must continue to support Iraqi Security Forces, but I’m concerned by reports that they have been using barrel bombs in their operations. Serious questions remain unanswered: Iraq’s role in Syria, the activities of Iraqi Shia militias fighting with Assad’s security forces, Iranian influence in Iraq, and the commitment of the Iraqi government to protect the residents of Camp Liberty until we can conclude a resettlement process.

“Ambassador Jones, I look forward to your perspective and analysis.

“Qatar presents another set of issues. We all have questions about the context of the negotiations, the Qatari government’s role in facilitating the talks, and its commitments regarding the status of the Taliban detainees. But Qatar’s multi-faceted, strategic importance goes far beyond its facilitating role in the Bergdahl/Taliban deal.

“So I sincerely hope that this hearing does not degenerate into a political debate that demands answers the nominee does not have and ultimately holds-up the process – leaving us with no Ambassador on the ground to enforce the terms of the agreement. This is not the time to debate those terms. It’s time to confirm an Ambassador who will enforce them.

“I look forward to hearing from her what she sees as her role, if confirmed, on monitoring this commitment and I want to make it clear that Congress will play an active oversight role on this issue. That said – I look forward to hearing from the nominee on the many facets of Qatar’s broader strategic importance.

“With that let me turn to Senator Corker for his comments.”

Panel One

“I welcome our first panel of nominees, all decorated career foreign service officers. None is a stranger to demanding, consuming, critical assignments both domestically and abroad, and we thank them and their families for their past service and their willingness to serve again in very challenging roles.

“Let me introduce them. They are Robert Stephen Beecroft to be Ambassador to Egypt, Stuart E. Jones to be Ambassador to Iraq, and Dana Shell Smith to be Ambassador to Qatar.

“Ambassador Beecroft has undertaken difficult assignments in the most critical countries for U.S. national security and strategic interests. He is a career foreign service officer with the rank of Minister-Counselor, and currently serves as Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“Stuart E. Jones – also no stranger to demanding assignments in the most strategic, pressing areas for the United States – is a career foreign service officer with the rank of Career Minister.

“He is currently serving as our Ambassador in Amman, Jordan, and has served twice as a Deputy Chief of Mission: in Baghdad, and in our U.S. Embassy in Egypt.

“Dana Shell Smith – truly a global diplomat – served throughout the world in her capacity as a public affairs officer. She too is a career foreign service officer, rank of Minister-Counselor, and currently serves as senior advisor to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

“And, as always, I urge you to introduce any family members with you. They are being asked to sacrifice as you are in service to this nation and we thank them for helping support you in carrying out your duties.

“Your full statements will be entered in the record, but we ask that you summarize your openings in 5 minutes so that we can get to questions.”

Panel Two

“On our second panel today is James Nealon nominated to be Ambassador to Honduras.

“Mr. Nealon’s nomination comes at a time when Honduras is facing serious challenges from crime and violence and a humanitarian crisis of children crossing borders by themselves, being apprehended, and held.

“The government of Honduras is struggling to guarantee the security and economic well-being of its people and as a result, we are left to address how we will handle waves of children-immigrants crossing into the United States on their own, and how the Honduran government will handle the underlying issues of crime and violence.

“Just last week, President Obama announced the creation of a new inter-agency task force to address what he called an “urgent humanitarian situation” stemming from unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border of the U.S., many of whom are from Honduras.

“I look forward to hearing Mr. Nealon’s views on the best way forward to address this humanitarian crisis.

“Also on our panel is Gentry Smith, nominated to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions with the rank of Ambassador.

“Mr. Smith is an expert in embassy security issues. He is a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, and is serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for Countermeasures at the State Department, a position he has held since 2009.

“He has served as the Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon.  He served as a Security Officer and Deputy Regional Security Officer during two separate tours at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

“Welcome to both of you. As always, I urge you to introduce any family members with you. They are being asked to sacrifice as you are in service to this nation and we thank them and welcome them to the Committee.

“Your full statements will be entered in the record, but I ask that you summarize your openings in 5 minutes so that we can get to questions.”