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Engel Remarks at Secretary Kerry Foreign Affairs Budget Hearing

ENGEL REMARKS AT SECRETARY KERRY FOREIGN AFFAIRS BUDGET HEARING

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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement prior to Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s testimony at a Committee hearing on the Fiscal Year 2017 international affairs budget:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Secretary.  As always, welcome to our Committee. We work very hard on this Committee to keep and make it the most bipartisan Committee in Congress.  Because when it comes to foreign policy, differences really should stop at the water’s edge.

“So, I want to thank you for your distinguished service to our country.  I know that you sat on this side of the dais long enough to understand Congress’s important role in foreign policy.  And we’re grateful for everything you do.

“I will get into a few specifics.  But even if we all listed our top ten foreign policy priorities, we’d just be scratching the surface.  I can never remember a time when so much was happening all at the same time, all at once.  Because if you threw a dart at a map of the world, wherever it landed, you’d find an American foreign policy interest.

“It might not be a top priority today, because we focus mostly on the fires already burning out of control.  But what happens if we don’t provide resources in sub-Saharan Africa to help consolidate democratic gains?  What happens to the Asia rebalance if we neglect U.S.-India security cooperation?  What happens if we say tackling climate change and protecting the environment just need to wait?

“The issues we ignore today will be the fires burning out of control tomorrow.  And one thing’s certain: stopping an ongoing crisis is a much costlier business than preventing one. In terms of American dollars and, often, American lives.

“So we need a robust foreign policy.  We need to invest in diplomacy, development, and foreign assistance in order to tackle all of these challenges.  We need to make the case that modest investments today—just over one percent of the federal budget—will pay back huge dividends for our security and prosperity tomorrow.  And we need to show that American leadership is always a sure thing.  Because if we’re not doing this work around the world, no one else will.

“So let me turn to a few particulars.  I know and you know, Mr. Secretary, we must continue to hold Iran’s feet to the fire.  We must make sure that they adhere to the agreement.  To the letter of the law.  I’m glad the Administration imposed new sanctions following Iran’s ballistic missile test.  We need to continue making sure Iran, again, is following its nuclear deal obligations to the letter.

“We also need to crack down on Iran’s other destructive behavior.  Iran continues stirring up trouble throughout the region, from sending IRGC commanders to Syria, to supporting the Houthis in Yemen, to spreading instability in Lebanon, to be the main supporter of Hezbollah.  We need to do what it takes to curb Iran’s ongoing mischief and support our allies and partners in the region, especially the state of Israel which Iran poses an existential threat to.

“In Syria, even with the planned ceasefire, I don’t foresee a quick end to the crisis, especially now that Russia has provided Assad another lifeline.  The millions of refugees and displaced families desperately need humanitarian assistance, and we should support the Administration’s $4.1 billion request.

“But food and supplies won’t end this conflict.  We need to push for a political resolution to get Assad out of power and help the Syrian people start rebuilding.  We also need a new AUMF giving the President what he needs to defeat ISIS, while preventing another large-scale open-ended commitment of American troops on the ground.

“Turning to Ukraine, as fighting again intensifies, we cannot take our eye off the ball.  Today, Ukraine’s top priority should be rooting out corruption and pushing reform, and we need to support these efforts.  We need to work with Ukraine.  We need to be a partner of Ukraine.  A stronger, more prosperous Ukraine stands a better chance of turning Putin back. 

“And speaking of Putin, we need to let him know that we will never acquiesce to his illegal occupation of Crimea, and his aggression in Ukraine will not be tolerated.

“So that’s why I’m glad we’re also doing the right thing by bolstering NATO in Eastern Europe to deter further Russian aggression.  And any talk of sanctions relief for Russia is premature so long as Ukraine doesn’t control its own eastern border. 

“But, Mr. Secretary, we must do more to counter Russian propaganda. The Chairman and I feel very strong about the fact that people in the Russian language sometimes only hear, on the air, what Putin wants them to hear.  And they get a very unbalanced view.  And we need to move in there and make sure that they get a balanced view.

“So here in our neighborhood, let me applaud President Obama for what he’s done over the last year.  We should support the President’s billion-dollar request for Central America.  If we’re getting to the root causes of child migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, fewer children will attempt the dangerous trek.

“Our top ally in the region, Colombia, is nearing a historic peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—the FARC.  Just as we’ve supported Colombia throughout this conflict, we should continue standing with Colombia’s people and government as they build a peaceful future.

“Turning to Argentina, the new government’s desire to work more closely with the U.S. is a good sign.  Chairman Royce and I have urged the President to prioritize this relationship, and I’m glad the President’s traveling there next month.

“Our policy on the Americas, in the Americas, brings me finally to global health.  The Zika virus may soon touch nearly every country in the hemisphere, and the connection between Zika and the birth defect microcephaly creates even greater urgency.  We should prioritize awareness efforts, including the risk of sexual transmission, and meet the needs for contraception.  Women need the right tools and information to choose whether and when to have children, particularly with this virus running wild.

“More generally, we continue to see the importance of investing in global health.  The President’s budget request is strong, but we should focus on the right priorities.  For example, tuberculosis is the world’s number-one infectious killer.  So I don’t understand why the funding request from last year hasn’t gone up.

“So Mr. Secretary, I could go on and on.  But I look to hearing from you on these and other concerns.  Again, thank you, and I yield back, Mr. Chairman.”