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U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

06/08/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/08/2021 17:39

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on FY 2022 State Department Budget Request

June 08, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on FY 2022 State Department Budget Request

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 hearing on the FY 2022 State Department budget request. The committee heard witness testimony from Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

'Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I join you in the expression of frustration for the tremendous number of issues we have and the minimal time we really have to deal with them here but it is what it is and we're just going to have to triage and deal with what is most important. Mr. Secretary, I understand you are off to the G7 Summit immediately after this meeting, and so I'd like to start on a positive note.

'There are some bright spots in the president's international affairs budget request. I was pleased with the emphasis on advancing U.S. global health security. Chairman Menendez and I continue to work on legislation to improve pandemic preparedness and response. It is a high priority for myself, and I think I speak for the chairman in saying it is a high priority for him also. It is something that this committee really needs to do in light of the things that have happened over the last year and a half. I look forward to seeing how we can align this effort with the Department of State which obviously plays and will play a large role as we go forward.

'But overall, the request is consistent with a troubling pattern, where Congress is asked to provide more and more, and the administration does not respond in kind. And we'd like to see that improve.

'We see this plainly in the partisan American Rescue Plan, which provided $10 billion to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic overseas three months ago. Now, I still don't feel that I have an understanding of how this plan will put those resources to good use on the ground.

'The president also pledged to share 80 million surplus doses of U.S.-approved COVID-19 vaccines over a month ago, and just last week provided a snapshot of where they will go. But I just don't feel that I have a comfortable understanding of the information that should be provided with this. Also I would really like to see how the administration will ensure that U.S. financial contributions to COVAX, which are important, are not used to purchase and distribute sub-standard Chinese vaccines. We've all seen how those have worked out in the field.

'The president has now asked for a 12 percent increase in foreign assistance spending for fiscal year 2022. Here again, Congress is asked to provide more money. We need more transparency and more accountability, of course.

'The challenges we face overseas are immense. But throwing good money at bad problems hasn't solved much in the past, and it will not solve anything today. Increasing foreign aid absent a clear strategy that emphasizes efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately self-reliance, will not advance U.S. strategic interests.

'Nor will a budget that proposes to throw hard-earned U.S. taxpayer dollars, or worse our kids' and our grandkids' money, at wholly unaccountable international institutions, including the Green Climate Fund, or U.N. agencies in dire need of reform, like the U.N. Human Rights Council and of course the World Health Organization, which itself admits that reform is needed.

'I believe that advancing an effective strategy to compete with the People's Republic of China must be the United States' top policy priority. I expect we will hear today about how this budget addresses this strategic imperative, and the need to fortify U.S. engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.

'The Strategic Competition Act - which recently passed out of this committee on a 21 to one vote - provides a roadmap. I had hoped, and I think the chairman had hoped, that we would get a standalone vote on this on the floor. When a bill comes out that is as important as that is, deals with the complexity that it did, and comes out on a 21 to one vote, it really should get consideration. Instead, of course, it has been placed in the other bill which is obviously uncertain of where that will go.

'The bill that we had authorizes funds and provides strategic direction for 'countering Chinese influence.' It mandates increases for diplomatic engagement, foreign assistance, and security assistance for the Indo-Pacific.

'Finally, it will help countries better organize infrastructure deals without falling into a Chinese debt trap or compromising their sovereignty.

'I'm hoping that whatever happens with the large bill, if it does not pass, that we get a vote on our bill - this committee's bill.

'With regard to the Iran Deal, I am deeply troubled by the direction Iran negotiations are headed. This is no surprise to you, Mr. Secretary, as we have talked about it over and over again.

'While your negotiators are in touch with the committee, they are like their predecessors on the original JCPOA - totally unresponsive to congressional objections. These are not consultations, but simply notifications. Not one of the suggestions I have made has been accepted in either the first JCPOA negotiations or in the ones that are ongoing now.

'It's clear that it's intended that we, the United States, rejoin the failed nuclear deal, unchanged after the Iranian elections. Your promises to 'lengthen and strengthen' will come later, but the idea of follow-on agreements is unrealistic and I would argue delusional. I can't understand why anyone would think that if the Iranians won't agree to the things we want them to agree to upfront, why in the world would they agree to it after the fact when they get everything they've asked for in the negotiations. The Iranians will never agree to return to discussions without the threat of continued sanctions.

'Additionally, the administration's plans to pursue sanctions relief 'not consistent' with the original nuclear deal are deeply concerning - especially as you consider rolling back terrorism and other sanctions not covered in the original deal.

'Moving to Israel, I applaud the administration for refusing to bow to progressive demands that we abandon our closest friend and ally as they face down a terrorist organization.

'This is a matter of Iran-backed terrorism against Israel, a sovereign nation, and that is being done by a designated terror organization, Hamas, using its own people as human shields. I am disappointed that some of my colleagues in Congress would call this enduring partnership into question.

'At the same time, I'm concerned that the administration is rushing to normalize relations with the Palestinian Authority without gaining the elimination of the 'pay for slay' program and other Palestinian actions that glorify and actually reward violence and terrorism.

'On Afghanistan, I have long called for a responsible end to the war, but by doing so in a manner that keeps Americans safe. I believe that what appears to be a rushed and political decision to withdraw, without consideration of our counterterrorism priorities, will allow Afghanistan to serve as a future platform for terrorist attacks against the United States and our partners. I have concerns that the despicable attack on the girls' school in Kabul is a sign of more to come.

'I am also concerned by the president's submission to Putin and abandonment of our European allies by waiving sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG. You testified in January that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal - yet this administration is allowing it to be completed. I understand you have some thoughts on that that you're going to tell us about today.

'This decision is an affront to us. I can't understand - I totally do not understand - how the president within a very short time after being inaugurated - within hours - put a pen to a piece of paper, shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline, put Canadians and Americans out of work, and yet we don't have that same enthusiasm to shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

'As the president heads to Europe, I hope to see the emergence of a real strategy for dealing with Russia, not just more dialogue. Give Putin an inch and he will take a mile. And I agree with the chairman wholeheartedly that all he understands is power.

'Lastly, in regards to the U.N., this fall, the United States will renegotiate the scales of assessment for U.N. peacekeeping. Currently, the U.N. has assessed the United States at a rate of 27.9 percent. As you know, this is not congruent with U.S. law.

'No country should pay more than 25 percent, and in 1994, Congress enacted a bill that imposed a 25 percent cap. I would hope the administration would follow this law - it remains in effect today, and it must be used in our negotiating position.

'I look forward to hearing your testimony on these and other items that are of concern.

'Thank you, Mr. Chairman.'

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

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