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Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing for Under 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 Victoria Nuland to be under secretary of State for political affairs and Ms. Uzra Zeya to be under secretary of State for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“We all know under secretaries of State serve an important role at the Department. They are responsible for the day-to-day management of – and policy coordination for – their respective bureaus. And we want to thank both of you for your willingness to serve in those capacities.

“In the case of Ambassador Nuland’s nomination to be under secretary for political affairs, this role oversees all regional, bilateral, and multilateral policy issues for the Department. That is no small task.

“While this position has a broad scope, there are a few specific areas of concern I would like to address today – the first of which, of course, is China.

“Next week, this committee will mark up the Strategic Competition Act. This legislation, introduced by Senator Menendez and myself:

  • Counters CCP malign influence globally, including by expanding the scope of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to review foreign money flowing to U.S. higher education institutions;
  • Advances concrete cooperation with allies and partners in technology, infrastructure development, and defense;
  • Shines a light on China’s predatory economic practices;
  • Pushes back on CCP influence at the UN;
  • Highlights China’s growing nuclear missile capabilities and calls on President Biden to assure our extended deterrence to allies and engage China in arms control talks.

“These are just a few of the issues we face when it comes to strategic competition with China. The Biden Administration’s highest priority – and ours here in Congress – must be to prioritize, resource, and respond to the challenges posed by the CCP as well as opportunities presented by expanded and concrete cooperation with allies and partners, especially in the Indo-Pacific region and in Europe.

“I want to take this opportunity, once again, to thank the chairman and the majority party for the negotiations we’ve had on the China bill. I think this has been a very positive step forward. It is certainly bipartisan. And, obviously, with all these kinds of things, there are parts of it I am not in love with, but on the other hand, it is always a give and take proposition to get where we want to go.

“I specifically want to thank the staffs of both of the majority and the minority for the give and take that they’ve entered into and the many hours they’ve spent negotiating the details of the many pages.

“I hope we can move this forward. I am a little bit concerned about the overall idea of taking this and wrapping it with six other committees who have ideas along this line. These are always difficult enough, but the more of those you wrap together the more difficult it will be. So, whatever happens, I hope we are able to move this bill forward in a bipartisan fashion.

“Next, I would like to address the administration’s ongoing desire to re-enter the failed JCPOA. Many of us, on both sides of the Senate, are closely following negotiations with the P5+1 in Vienna.

“I concur with the chairman, this is difficult – this is not an easy proposition. At the outset, many of us are deeply concerned with the administration’s promises to “lengthen and strengthen.” Unfortunately, it sounds like a bumper sticker, and like the chairman, I’m interested in hearing what the details are.

“Unfortunately, to me, it’s starting to look a lot more like a straight re-entry into the 2015 deal which is not acceptable to me and I think not acceptable to most members of this committee on both sides of the aisle. Discussions with the parties have lead me to conclude that and I hope I’m wrong on this

“Negotiators have established working groups to address nuclear compliance and sanctions relief. But they have not established a working group on Iran’s regional terrorism – something  that a lot of us have repeatedly said must be addressed in any deal with Iran.

“Our national security interests with Iran must last longer than a single administration. If the administration chooses to continue down a path of straight re-entry into the nuclear deal, I predict that it will be short-lived – either the next Republican administration will tear down the deal, or the nation most directly affected, who is remarkably always excluded from the deal, will take unilateral action – which will not end well.

“To avoid this outcome, the administration should also seek bipartisan congressional support for any agreement with Iran. I have a feeling the administration is walking down a well-worn partisan path that will repeat the mistakes of the original administration that entered into the deal. I hope I’m wrong on all of this and that all of us here who have a lot of experience in this will be listened to as we move forward.

“In Europe, Russia remains a pressing concern. Although Russia is amassing tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border as we speak, they have still been allowed to continue construction of the malign Nord Stream 2 pipeline. And, Ambassador Nuland, I appreciate your candid discussion with me in that regard. Actually, in front of this committee, Secretary Blinken testified that he sees the pipeline as “a bad deal” and has told us that he’d like to see it stopped.

“Yet, despite having the power to stop it, we’ve seen no real action and I am very disappointed in this. He was personally handed, by myself and other members of this committee, a vetted list of people who needed to be sanctioned. I’m not happy with what’s happened. They keep telling us that they need to vet this and prepare a case so that when they put the sanctions on they can be prepared to go to court.

“I’ve told them – no you don’t. You have probable cause on every one of those people we’ve put in front of you and you need to sanction them. Now, when you go court you need lawyers who have a case well prepared, but there is probable cause on every one of these to be sanction that will shut down the pipeline.

“This committee drafted and pushed through legislation on a bipartisan basis to prevent the completion of Nord Stream 2. We continue to be concerned by the administration’s refusal to fully implement the law and sanction all parties involved in the construction of the pipeline. It is past time that the administration take meaningful action on this issue.

“I would remind everyone, on day one of this administration, they stopped the Keystone XL Pipeline – on day one. They have in-hand direction from this Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to do the same thing on a Russian pipeline. If we’re going to put American workers out of work, we ought to put the Russian workers out of work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

“Many on this committee bemoaned the previous administration’s posture on Russia. What is clear is that the Trump Administration was tougher on them than the Biden Administration.

“Next, we have Ms. Zeya’s nomination to be under secretary of State for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. This positon is tasked with a broad functional portfolio which encompasses human rights, counterterrorism, refugees, migration, and trafficking in persons.

“We must continue to lead on the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights around the world – not just because these democratic values form the core of our values as a nation, but also because they lead to stronger partnerships with other nations. I know virtually every member of this committee agrees with me on that proposition.

“With regard to the rule of law, I share the administration’s concerns about the International Criminal Court’s decision to investigate U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

“It is completely unacceptable that the ICC has decided to pursue cases clearly outside their jurisdiction. The Department must continue its efforts to protect our personnel from these politically-motivated efforts.

“Again, I thank you both again for being here today, and your willingness to serve and your families’ willingness to undertake the sacrifices necessary to do so. With that, thank you, Mr. chairman.”

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