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 nominations hearing. The witness for panel one included: The Honorable Lynne M. Tracy, nominee to be ambassador to Russia.
On panel two, the witnesses included: The Honorable Julie D. Fisher, nominee to be ambassador to Cypress, Ms. Kristina A. Kvien, nominee to be ambassador to Armenia, Ms. Carol Spahn, nominee to be director of the Peace Corps, and Ms. Cynthia Dyer, nominee to be director of the office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks for the first panel:
“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.
“Good morning and welcome to Ambassador Tracy.
“Ambassador Tracy has been nominated to be ambassador to Russia at the lowest point of relations between our two countries since the Cold War. Our soldiers aren’t on the ground facing each other but our weapons do combat back and forth every day.
“Putin continues his unjust, unprovoked, and inhumane war on Ukraine, which includes deliberate attacks on civilian critical infrastructure, as well as atrocities perpetrated against the civilian population. He continues to weaponize Russian energy supplies against U.S. allies and partners in Europe, and uses the profits to fund his war in Ukraine. Under Putin, Russia has reemerged as a strategic challenger to the United States and the entire transatlantic community.
“The withdrawal of Russia from bilateral arms control measures further highlights the dangerous game of brinksmanship they always play. Russia continues to be a very dangerous place for Americans. There are a number of Americans held in Russian prisons today, two of whom have been designated as “wrongfully detained” under the Levinson Act. It’s clear these people were targeted to be used as political bargaining chips.
“The Kremlin has long been suspected of using its personnel in the U.S. who are assigned to Russian consulates, the Russian Embassy, and the Russian Mission to the UN to conduct espionage and malign influence activities against the United States. Meanwhile, over the past eight years, the U.S. has been forced to close three of its consulates in Russia, while Russia continues to operate its consulates in Houston and New York. In addition, our State Department continues to grant more diplomatic visas to Russia than Russia grants to the United States. We must build on recent, though tenuous, progress in countering these efforts, which began during the Trump Administration, and not give in to Russian pressure tactics.
“Short-staffing at Embassy Moscow has seriously hindered facilities management and the day-to-day conduct of American diplomacy, and I commend our diplomats in Moscow for continuing to keep our embassy operational in spite of these challenges. While I wish to see these restrictions eased, I also expect the department to prioritize visa reciprocity in any conversations about increasing our footprint in country. We cannot allow the Kremlin to hold our diplomatic facilities and personnel hostage in an attempt to secure policy concessions or an increased diplomatic or intelligence presence in the U.S.
“From managing the lines of diplomatic effort and dialogue, to pursuing consular access for Americans held in Russia, to simply keeping the building and team running, Ambassador Tracy will face many challenges if confirmed.
“Ambassador Tracy, I thank you for your years of service and for stepping up to what’s going to be a very difficult task undoubtedly. I look forward to hearing your plans to confront these issues.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks for the second panel:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the panel for being here today. Certainly four important appointments.
“On Armenia, the U.S. has a valuable role to play in resolving the tenuous relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan. At the centerpiece of the conflict of course is the disputed territories and the need to find a stable solution that protects the rights of Armenians and Azeris living there.
“With Russia pulling back in the region, there is now a limited opportunity for the U.S. to take a stronger role and help end the bloodshed.
“With regard to Cyprus, our relationship is changing, due to Cyprus’ progress in cleaning up its financial sector, as well as its growing ties with Greece and Israel. Just a few months ago, the State Department waived the arms embargo that it has had on Cyprus since 1987, which will open the door to closer cooperation, and hopefully some improvements in areas of mutual interest in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“I expect that strong U.S. leadership will continue to advance this progress, and closer bilateral relations will open up new opportunities for the United States to work with parties on the island to find a lasting and stable solution for reunification.
“I thank Ambassador Fisher for being willing to serve the United States in Cyprus, and I look forward to hearing how you will approach these complex issues.
“I am glad to finally have a nominee for the important position of Ambassador-At-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking.
“Thus far, I have been disappointed with the Biden Administration’s communication with Congress on human trafficking, and hope that filling this position will grant this important issue the attention it deserves.
“As the chairman noted, he and I have worked together on the International Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which would reform and modernize the State Department’s efforts to combat and monitor human trafficking. We look forward to progress.
“I look forward to hearing from you, Ms. Dyer, on your views of how to improve U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking around the globe.
“And finally, after COVID-19 forced a total, global evacuation of the Peace Corps, the organization has taken some steps to increase safety measures, as well as gradual re-entry to countries of service.
“Additionally, it is no secret that the Peace Corps has had its share of safety and security concerns prior to this global evacuation.
“That is why I worked with the chairman on our Peace Corps Reauthorization bill to address these challenges and ensure that today’s volunteers are equipped with the best training and knowledge to re-enter their countries of service.
“I want to thank you, Ms. Spahn, for your prior service in the Peace Corps and for the willingness to serve in this new capacity. I look forward to hearing how you will approach the ongoing safety and security issues that many volunteers face should you be confirmed.
“And I know you’ve had quite a bit of experience in that. Ms. Spahn, we’re looking forward to great and glorious things from you.
“With that, I will turn it back to the chairman. Thank you.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.