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Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, very much, Ranking Member Corker, members of the committee. I’m very happy to be back here and appreciate enormously the committee’s indulgence to have shifted this hearing because it came at a critical moment just before I was asked by the President to meet with Lavrov relative to Ukraine. And so I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee. Mr. Chairman, you’ve worked really hard to make that happen, and the ranking member, great cooperation. Senator McCain, others, helped to intervene on that, and I’m – I want to thank you all for that.
A lot of questions, Senator Corker, that you raised, and I really look forward to answering all of them because there is a cohesive approach. We’re living in an extremely complicated world unlike anything most of us grew up with. And we can talk about that here today because it really is critical to the question of how we deal, as the United States, in our budget and our own politics here and in our – in the choices we make.
Obviously – Senator Corker just brought it up – the intense focus on Ukraine continues. And everything that we’ve seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they’ve been sent there determined to create chaos. And that is absolutely unacceptable. These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, frankly. And quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary engaged in this initiative.
Russia’s clear and unmistakable involvement in destabilizing and engaging in separatist activities in the east of Ukraine is more than deeply disturbing. No one should be fooled, and believe me, no one is fooled by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours. Some have even been arrested and exposed. And equally as clear must be the reality that the United States and our allies will not hesitate to use 21st-century tools to hold Russia accountable for 19th-century behavior. We have stated again and again that our preference – and the preference of our friends and allies – is de-escalation and a diplomatic solution. But Russia should not for a single solitary second mistake the expression of that preference as an unwillingness to do what is necessary to stop any violation of the international order.
At NATO last week and in all of my conversations of the past weeks, it is clear that the United States and our closest partners are united in this effort despite the costs and willing to put in effect tough new sanctions on those orchestrating this action and on key sectors of the Russian economy. In energy, banking, mining – they’re all on the table. And President Obama has already signed an executive order to implement these actions if Russia does not end its pressure and aggression on Ukraine.
Now, let me make an equally important statement. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it will be this way if Russia continues down this provocative path. In my conversation yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we agreed to meet soon in Europe, next week, with Ukraine and our European partners to discuss de-escalation, demobilization, inclusivity, support for elections, and constitutional reform. And it is not, in our judgment, a small matter that Russia has agreed to sit in this four-party status with Ukraine at the table in an effort to try to forge a road ahead. Between now and then, we have made it clear that Russia needs to take concrete steps to disavow separatist actions in eastern Ukraine, pull back its forces outside the country, which they say they have begun to do with the movement of one battalion, and demonstrate that they are prepared to come to these discussions to do what is necessary to de-escalate.
So Russia has a choice: to work with the international community to help build an independent Ukraine that could be a bridge between the East and West – not the object of a tug of war – that could meet the hopes and aspirations of all Ukrainians, or they could face greater isolation and pay the cost for their failure to see that the world is not a zero-sum game.
Ukraine and so many other ongoing simultaneous challenges globally reinforce what I said a moment ago to all of you. I think the members of this committee have long appreciated it. That is that - this is not the bipolar, straightforward choice of the Cold War. We’re living in an incredibly challenging time where some of the things that the East-West order took for granted most of my life are suddenly finding a world in which American engagement is more critical. And in many ways it’s more complicated because of nation-state interests, balance of power, are the kinds of issues that are on the table.
You all travel; all the members of this committee do that. And you see what I see in every place that I travel as Secretary. On issue after issue, people depend on American leadership to make a difference. That has been reinforced to me more than perhaps any other single thing in the year that I’ve been privileged to be Secretary, whether it’s South Sudan, a nation that many of you helped to give birth to and now a nation struggling to survive beyond its infancy; or Venezuela, where leaders are making dangerous choices at the expense of the people; or in Afghanistan, where this weekend millions defied the Taliban and went to the polls to choose a new president; or on the Korean Peninsula, where we are working with our allies and our partners to make sure that we can meet any threat and move towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. I think I’ve had five meetings with President Xi this year, and five trips to Asia already, in furtherance of our efforts to – and two of those meetings were with the president, with President Xi, in an effort to further our goals there.
U.S. presence and leadership does matter, and that’s why our rebalance to the Asia Pacific has been supported and welcomed by people throughout the region.
We also have great allies, great partners, but the fact remains that no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront some of the most difficult challenges in the same way as we are privileged to do. I say that without arrogance, I say it as a matter of privilege. We have this ability, and I hear this from leaders all over the world. I particularly hear it about the Middle East peace process. I read some who question why the Secretary of State is engaged or is intense as he might be, or why the United States should be doing this if the parties don’t want to do this. Well, the truth is the parties say they want to continue these talks. The truth is the parties are actually still talking to each other in an effort to try to see if they can get over this hurdle and make that happen.
But I have one certainty in my mind: I have yet to meet any leader anywhere in the world who argues to me that it’s going to be easier next week or easier next month or easier next year or easier in the next five years to achieve a long sought after goal if the United States is not engaged now. There’s no foreign minister anywhere that I’ve met with, no leader – when I visited recently at the Vatican with His Eminence, the Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin. This is first and foremost in the minds of people all over the world. Prime Minister Abe, the prime minister of Indonesia, they ask you: Do we have a chance of making peace in the Middle East? Because everywhere it is a recruitment tool. Everywhere it is a concern. Everywhere it has an impact. And the fact is that everybody volunteers gratitude for the fact that the United States is engaged in that effort.
So whether it was NATO this past week or the G7 last week or the Vatican itself, I’ve heard from minister after minister just how much the global community is invested in this effort. Japan just committed several hundred million dollars to the Palestinians for assistance. The Saudis, the Qataris, the Emiratis, have each responded to our request and committed to 150 million each to assist the Palestinians going forward. So this is something that has an impact on everybody, and believe me, it has an impact on life in the United States too.
So we will continue to the degree that the parties want to. It’s up to them. They have to make decisions; not us. They have to come to the conclusion that it’s worth it. The same is true on Iran, where every country understands the danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to our national security and to the security of our allies. And that is why we have been so focused, along with all of you, on forging an unprecedented coalition to impose the sanctions. From day one this Administration has made it a foreign policy goal to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
To achieve this goal we have been clear that we will use all the elements of our national power, including direct negotiations with Iran, the very kind that we are engaged in as I speak. We are approaching these talks seriously and with our eyes wide open. That’s why as we negotiate we continue to enforce sanctions on Iran not affected by the Joint Plan of Action – not just incidentally over its nuclear activities, but also because of its support for terrorism. And we will press the case on human rights and its record wherever we can. And we will continue to urge Iran to release our American citizens – Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini – and we will work to help find Robert Levinson. All three should be home with their families, and that is consistently raised by us with any Iranian official when we engage.
These are just some of the biggest issues that we’re focused on each and every day simultaneously, my colleagues. They’re not the only ones. Senators Corker and McCain, you’ve both been to the Syrian refugee camps on the border. You’ve seen the horrors firsthand, as I have. And this committee has focused on the moral and security imperative that is Syria. And I’m particularly grateful for the fact that you voted the way you did – the one body in the Congress that took that vote. And it was a courageous and important vote.
We are focused on this every single day, and we are currently routing increased assistance to the moderate opposition. I know we’ll talk about this in the course of this hearing. We’re wrestling with these tough challenges, even as we are moving the State Department ahead in our business – in our – to help our businesses succeed in a world where foreign policy is economic policy.
One of the things I want to emphasize, when I became the nominee I said to everybody on the committee that: Foreign policy is economic policy; economic policy is foreign policy in today’s world. And so we have set ourselves up in the State Department to be increasingly geared towards helping American businesses and towards creating new partnerships in an effort to also promote our foreign policy goals. We’re focused on jobs diplomacy and shared prosperity.
That’s why Embassy Wellington just helped a company in New Jersey land a $350 million contract to lay fiber optics across the Pacific. It’s why our consulate in Shenyang has been so engaged to reverse tariffs against American agricultural products. It’s the challenge of the modern State Department in a modern world, and that is to wrestle with the challenges and opportunities that come at us faster than ever before. It’s a challenge balanced also against security in a dangerous world, which is why this budget implements the recommendations of the independent Accountability Review Board and makes additional investments that go above and beyond what the review board recommended.
So I want to thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done for the security of our missions, and I want to thank you for the way this committee stands up for an active, internationalist, American foreign policy that’s in our interests. I spent enough time here in this room as well as in the Senate to know that you don’t call anything that costs billions of dollars a bargain. But when you consider that the American people pay just one penny of every tax dollar for the 46.2 billion in this request, I think it’s safe – and if you add OCO it’s the 50.1 – I think it’s safe to say that in the grand scheme of the federal budget, when it comes to the State Department and USAID, taxpayers are getting an extraordinary return on their investment.
So I thank you for your partnership in these efforts, and I look forward to our conversation today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria has confirmed that a 12th consignment of chemicals has been transported to the port of Latakia and removed from the country.
Noting this latest consignment the OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, expressed the hope that Syria will expedite the removal process. “This is the first shipment since 20 March. It is therefore important not only to follow this up with further rapid movements but also to make up for the lost time by increasing the volumes of chemicals to be removed”, said the Director General.
The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon has exceeded one million, in what the UN refugee agency calls a "devastating milestone" for a small country with depleted resources and brewing sectarian tension.
Refugees from Syria, half of them children, now equal a quarter of Lebanon's resident population, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement, warning that most of them live in poverty and depend on aid for survival.
UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres described the figure as "a devastating milestone worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point".
"Tiny Lebanon has now become the country with "the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide," and is "struggling to keep pace", Guterres said in a statement.
"The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering," he said.
Shelling: Many Syrian rebels and civilians have taken refuge in ancient buildings. Shelling refers to damages to sites from air strikes, bombings, heavy gunfire, or violent searches by the military.
Looting: Syrian museums and archeological sites house relics from the earliest cities, Ebla, the Crusades, Islamic conquerors, and many other important periods of human history. Looters, local and foreign, have stolen many artifacts and damaged sites in the process.
Military Occupation: Armed forces have set up encampments, often damaging the sites in the process. Tanks have rolled onto fragile archeological dig sites and medieval walls have been torn down to make room for military construction.
-backed peace talks to end the country's bloody civil warN. If he runs again in the upcoming election, it would dim the prospects of U.President Assad won the last election in 2007 with 98 percent of the vote, in a process that can hardly be called free or fair.
For the past forty years, voting in Syria has been a pretty straightforward process. In 2007, the most recent presidential poll, the ballot asked one simple question: Should Bashar Assad stay in power for another seven-year term? Voters could check a green circle marked yes, or a red circle marked no. In at least one polling station in Damascus (though anecdotal evidence points to a wider distribution) election officials even made the act of checking optional. Instead, they offered a stack of forms pre-marked in Assad’s favor. Anyone who wanted to vote against him simply had to ask for an unmarked ballot—in front of an array of police officers and intelligence agents. “Not once in the whole day did I see someone vote against Assad,” says Siraj, a 28-year-old Syrian military defector now living in Beirut, Lebanon, who was helping his father run the local polling site that day by passing out ballot papers. “If you asked for an unmarked ballot, all eyes would be on you.”
In 2007, Assad won the referendum with 97.6 percent of the vote. With his second term drawing to a close on July 17, a new election is likely to be called in the coming weeks, though this time around it won’t be a simple yes or no vote. Electoral reforms, voted in by parliament two years ago, now allow multiple candidates to run for president for the first since Assad’s father took power 44 years ago. Few believe that it will make any difference at all. “I’ve seen how voting works in Syria,” Siraj tells TIME, asking to go by one name to protect family still in Damascus. “Assad will win no matter how many names are on the ballot.”
Not only are the upcoming elections likely to be meaningless in a country where three years of war have driven nearly half the population from their homes and taken an estimated 145,000 lives, they also threaten to undermine any chance of a political negotiation that might lead to peace. A presidential campaign with Assad in the running directly contravenes a UN-backed peace process based on the establishment of a transitional government leading to free and fair elections. “I very much doubt that a presidential election and another seven-year term for President Bashar Assad will put an end to the unbearable suffering of the Syrian people, stop the destruction of the country and re-establish harmony and mutual confidence in the region,” U.N. peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told the U.N. General Assembly on March 14.
Assad has yet to formally announce his candidacy, coyly stating in various media appearances that it is up to the Syrian people to nominate him. But in government-controlled areas, election preparations are in full swing. In Homs city, rubble-strewn neighborhoods are being cleaned and plastered with posters of the President and banners pleading for him to run. In Damascus shopkeepers have painted their rolling shutters with the colors of the regime’s flag while car processions waving flags and blaring music glorifying Assad make the rounds. Posters proclaiming that “Eyelids will not sleep until you elect the ophthalmologist,” in reference to Assad’s pre-presidential career have sprouted in affluent areas (the phrase rhymes in Arabic). Yet for all the election fanfare, and the fact that Parliament has cleared the way for competition, not a single opposing candidate has emerged. The risks are simply too high. Twenty-seven-year-old Damascus resident Hind doesn’t expect to see any real candidates put their name forward. Anyone who runs against Assad, she says, via Skype, will be doing it just for appearances’ sake, “to keep up the spectacle and make-believe.”