Engel Remarks at Full Committee Markup


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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a full Committee markup of legislation to authorize the direct provision of defense articles, defense services, and related training to the Kurdistan Regional Government, and for other purposes (H.R.1654), the Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act of 2015 (H.R.3654), the Taiwan Naval Support Act (H.R.4154), legislation condemning the use of toxic chemicals as weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic (H.Res.346), and legislation supporting freedom of the press in Latin America and the Caribbean (H.Res.536):

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this markup, our final full Committee markup of 2015.  Let me say again how proud I am of the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee and of our Members on both sides of the aisle.  This year, we’ve racked up an impressive record of achievement, and I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your leadership and your commitment to leaving politics at the water’s edge. 

“And I want to also take this opportunity to remind our colleagues on both sides of the aisle that today at five o’clock—from five to seven, in this very room—the Foreign Affairs Committee is having its holiday party, and we hope that every Member will attend.  There will be plenty of food, and it’ll be another nice chance to get together.

“So we have a raft of good measures before us today, and I’ll say a few words about each. 

“I’ll start, Mr. Chairman, with your legislation to provide defense training and equipment directly to the Kurdish Regional Government.  Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have been some of our closest partners in the fight against ISIS.  They’re tough fighters, getting real results rolling back the gains ISIS has made.  We need to make sure the Kurds have everything they need to defend themselves, and keep the pressure on ISIS. They have really been loyal and true allies and friends.

“Current law requires all military assistance for the Kurds to flow through Baghdad.  Now, this has caused some delays in the shipment of arms to Kurdish forces, and complicated efforts to supply the Kurds with the heavy weapons they need—including anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, and long-range artillery.

“This legislation removes those roadblocks.  It would authorize the President to provide military equipment directly to the Iraqi Kurds for a period of three years.  It urges the President to continue consulting with the Iraqi government, and it requires that the weapons provided to the Kurds be used to meet our shared goal of defeating ISIS. 

“This just makes sense.  The Kurds are making progress, and we need to keep the wind at their backs.  But while the Kurds are great partners and formidable fighters, they cannot take on ISIS all by themselves, particularly outside of the traditional Kurdish areas of Iraq.  

“At the end of the day, defeating ISIS will take the combined efforts of all Iraqis.  And I want to be absolutely clear on this point: while the legislation is focused on supporting the Kurds, it does not in any way dial back America’s commitment to other Iraqi partners.  It does not endorse a divided Iraq.  Rather, it gets military equipment where it will do the most good more quickly, period.

“In fact, it’s imperative that we do keep working closely with Iraq’s government.  Many of us have serious questions about the performance of the Iraqi army, and deep concerns about the role of Iran-backed militias.  But it’s clear that the Iraqi Security Forces have a central role to play. 

“On another day, we can talk about the Kurds, because I think that the Kurds are a people that deserve international support.  And that’s another issue to talk about later on, whether or not the Kurds should be trapped in an Iraq that seems spiraling—continuing to spiral—out of control.  But right now, it is very important that Iraqi security forces do have a central role to play.

“We should also support Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities.  Many of these groups have borne the brunt of ISIS terror and now want to help liberate their towns and villages.

“And finally, we should find new ways to collaborate with the Sunni population of Iraq.  The Sunnis will play a vital role defeating ISIS, just as they were key to the defeat of al Qaeda during the Iraq War.  But they need training and equipment, so we need to work with the Iraqi government to get them the support they need and to make clear that they have a stake in the future of a unified Iraq. 

“I know we’re all aggravated over the fact that they seem to cut and run and let ISIS take over swaths of territory.  Well, instead of just keeping our—wringing our hands, we really need to do something about it.  And this, I believe, will.

“Next, I’ll turn to Mr. Poe and Mr. Sherman’s bill to combat the use of social media by terrorist groups.  I’m very proud to cosponsor this legislation.

“Perhaps the most searing images we’ve seen of ISIS are of ‘Jihadi John,’ as he was known, standing over the bodies of his victims.  Images and videos that ISIS blasted around the world on social media.  Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about him anymore. 

“But whether on Twitter or YouTube, terrorist groups continue to take full advantage of social media to spread their message of violence and hatred.  With the click of a button, groups like ISIS can use these platforms to broadcast video of their heinous acts, solicit foreign fighters, and radicalize vulnerable people around the world.

“We need a strategy to push back against terrorists’ use of social media, to foster greater collaboration between government and private-sector companies, and to help identify and stop terrorist activities online.  This bill calls for that strategy, and will help us take on ISIS and other groups on the virtual battlefield.  I urge all of my colleagues to support it.

“Moving on, I’m happy to support this Taiwan Naval Support Act, sponsored by Mr. Sherman, the Ranking Member of our Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.  I’m a strong supporter of Taiwan, and I think Taiwan needs to maintain a strong defense.  Nearly a year ago, the Naval Vessel Transfer Act was signed.  This bill authorized the sale of four guided-missile frigates to Taiwan.  Taiwan is ready to buy at least two of them, and restoration is underway.  But Congress has yet to be notified of the transfer.

“Now, in my view, we should be seeing even more regular transfers of equipment that would help shore up Taiwanese security.  I know sales to Taiwan are always a touchy issue because our dealings with China are sensitive.  We don’t want to derail our work with China on issues of mutual concern.  But our desire not to upset Beijing shouldn’t come at the expense of Taiwan’s security.

“This bill would require the President to commit to a timeline for these sales, and communicate that timeline to Congress.  It wouldn’t force a deadline.  But it would let us know that these sales are on track.  We owe at least this much to our friends and partners in Taiwan.  I support this legislation and urge my colleagues to do the same.

“I also want to voice my support for Mr. Yoho’s resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and I thank him for his work on this measure. Two years ago, the world was shocked when the Assad regime killed 1,400 of its own people—including hundreds of children—in a chemical-weapons attack in the outskirts of Damascus.  In response to pressure from the international community—including the threat of force from the U.S.—the Assad regime agreed to give up all of its chemical weapons and join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“But even before I wrote the Syria Accountability Act a decade ago, I never trusted Assad to keep his word.  And true to form, he hasn’t lived up to the letter or spirit of what he promised to do.  Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen partnered with me on the Syria Accountability Act when few knew about Assad.  But we knew about Assad.  And we knew that Assad was a negative force in the region to say the least. 

“Many experts believe that Assad failed to declare all of his banned chemical weapons to the international community.  And we know for a fact that the regime has increasingly used chlorine as a chemical weapon, which is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“This resolution condemns the Assad regime’s use of chlorine as a chemical weapon, calls for those involved in this unlawful activity to be held accountable, and urges the Administration to support efforts to collect evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“And lastly, let me thank Mr. Sires for offering this resolution supporting press freedom in Latin American and the Caribbean and condemning violence against journalists.  I’m deeply troubled that the freedom of the press is under grave threat in some countries right here in our neighborhood.  We hear a great deal from regional leaders in the Americas when electoral democracy is at risk, and I appreciate this. Unfortunately, we hear too little about the subtle challenges to democracy, particularly violations of press freedom.  When the Ecuadorian government threatened to close down Fundamedios earlier this year, Chairman Royce and I strongly condemned this effort. Fortunately, President Correa relented in the face of international condemnation. But this is just one example.

“Violence against journalists has become a scourge in the Americas.  Being a journalist in Colombia, Mexico, and Honduras is a very dangerous business.  Of course, there is no press freedom in Cuba.  Venezuela is also a worry and a country that represses freedom. Although the election held there a few days ago gives us cause for hope.

“This resolution shines a light on the problem, and urges these governments to do more to provide protection to those journalists under threat, and I’m pleased to support it. So once again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for your leadership, and for bringing all these measures forward today.  I yield back.”