FPI Bulletin: Suggested Questions for Secretary of State Kerry’s Congressional Hearings

March 11, 2014

Secretary of State John F. Kerry will appear before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this week to brief lawmakers on the Obama administration’s priorities in fiscal year (FY) 2015.  The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hopes that the following questions will be helpful as lawmakers and their staff prepare for these hearings.


On American Credibility and Global Leadership

(1) President Obama, who threatened to use military force in September 2013 after dictator Bashar al-Assad repeatedly used chemical weapons in Syria, ultimately decided against any military option to enforce his “red line,” and instead partnered with Russia in a controversial plan to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons by mid-2014.  Today, not only is the U.S.-Russian plan to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons far behind schedule, but Assad remains in power.  Geneva talks between the Assad regime and opposition groups have failed to end the Syrian conflict, and the country’s death toll and refugee count continues to rise.

In addition, while President Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” it would be difficult to argue credibly that the Putin government has suffered, so far, costs that are fully commensurate to Russia’s illegal military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

  • How would you respond to critics who argue that America’s responses to Assad’s chemical attacks in Syria and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine have eroded U.S. credibility in the eyes of both our nation’s allies and potential adversaries?

On U.S. Foreign Assistance

(2) According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), the FY 2015 request for the international affairs budget would reduce funding for all humanitarian assistance accounts by 25 percent to $4.8 billion.  USGLC adds that the reduction, which will impact programs for disaster aid, emergency refugees, and food aid, “is almost certain to receive strong push-back from advocates calling for an expansion, not retrenchment, of emergency relief resources and from Congressional champions who have pushed up humanitarian spending each of the past two years.”

  • How will this reduction in humanitarian assistance funding limit America’s ability to respond to unforeseen relief efforts around the globe?  Is this reduction prudent?

(3) Last year, you said that “[the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] created the world’s largest and the most successful foreign assistance program ever. And now, a disease that at one time seemed to be unstoppable is actually in retreat.”  However, the FY 2015 budget would reduce Global Health spending by $389 million, representing a decrease of roughly 4.6 percent, and PEPFAR funding in FY 2015 remains flat.

  • Ten years after PEPFAR was launched, what steps are you taking to transform PEPFAR from an emergency program to a sustainable and lasting global initiative?

(4) An October 2013 report released by Publish What You Fund, a not-for-profit organization that campaigns for foreign assistance transparency, ranked the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as the top agency among 67 international donor organizations for transparency in 2013.

  • What specific steps are you taking to replicate MCC’s success in other parts of the international affairs bureaucracy, and to make other foreign assistance programs more effective, accountable, and transparent?

 On Iran

(5) The interim nuclear deal between the United States, other world powers, and Iran in November 2013 contemplates a comprehensive nuclear agreement in which Iran could potentially possess “a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical-needs.”  However, former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried S. Hecker and former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry recently wrote in The New York Times that “[t]he best economic option for Tehran would simply be to get out of the nuclear fuel-cycle business altogether.”

  • To what extent does the Obama administration believe that Iran has any practical need for uranium enrichment, especially given that Dr. Hecker and Secretary Perry have argued that:  “[N]o matter how many more centrifuges Iran installs, it can never become self-sufficient because it does not possess adequate uranium ore reserves for a large-scale nuclear energy program.”  Instead, can Iran purchase any fuel it would require for a legitimate civilian nuclear program on the global market?

(6) In December 2009, the United Arab Emirates concluded a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States in which the Emirates legally obliged to uphold a new “gold standard” for responsible nuclear behavior by forsaking uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing or other sensitive nuclear activities.  In January 2014, President Obama submitted for congressional review a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in which Taiwan made a similar legally-binding obligation.

  • If a prospective agreement with Iran allows Tehran to enrich uranium, would it not undermine efforts by the United States to establish a “gold standard” for responsible nuclear behavior in which states refrain from uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and other sensitive nuclear activities?

On Russia

(7) The State Department recently released a fact sheet highlighting the “false narrative” that Russian President Vladimir Putin is spinning to justify Russia’s military seizure of Crimea.   You reportedly warned your Russian counterpart that a Russian attempt to annex Crimea would “close any available space for diplomacy.”

  • What specific steps is the Obama administration considering to punish President Putin and other officials who are responsible for the invasion of Ukraine and pending annexation of Crimea?  Will the response include sanctions against the senior Russian leadership, including President Putin?
  • What measures will the administration take to strengthen NATO’s deterrent posture and reassure our allies, especially the Baltic States?  Do you believe that the United States should reconsider the “three no’s” restricting the deployment of nuclear weapons to new NATO members in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

(8) The Obama administration imposed sanctions on only 18 Russian officials with the public version of the “Magnitsky List” in 2012.  The Wall Street Journal reported that even though Treasury and State officials agreed to add an additional 20 names to the Magnitsky Act’s list last year, the White House refused to add them.  Congressman Jim McGovern has offered an additional 280 names for inclusion in the list.

  • Do you support adding more names to the Magnitsky List to highlight and punish Russian human rights abuses?

(9) The New York Times and The Daily Beast have recently reported on Russian violations of its Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) with the United States, which were not previously disclosed by the Obama administration.

  • The Obama administration has reportedly known about Russia’s violations since 2012.  Why were Russia’s alleged or actual violations of the INF Treaty not disclosed in the State Department’s unclassified compliance reports?

On Afghanistan

(10) The FY 2015 budget proposal for the U.S. State Department and other international affairs efforts requests $5.1 billion for programs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  In response to outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to agree to a Bilateral Security Agreement that would permit a residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, however, President Obama recently ordered Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to begin “contingency planning” for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year.

  • What will happen to Afghanistan’s progress in education, literacy levels, and women’s rights, if U.S. forces withdraw completely from Afghanistan in 2014?
  • What lessons have you drawn in the wake of America’s complete military withdrawal from Iraq after 2010, especially given the subsequent increase of violence and instability there?

On Syria

(11) In November 2013, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published a detailed plan requiring the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to remove or destroy all chemical weapons by February 2014 and to destroy all production facilities by March 2014.  After failing to meet these deadlines, Syria submitted a revised timeline to the OPCW on March 4th that would eliminate Syria’s chemicals by the end of April 2014.

  • Given that Assad has repeatedly missed deadlines for destroying its chemical weapons, do you expect the Assad regime will eliminate all of its chemical weapons by the end of April 2014?
  • How confident are you that Assad has declared his entire stockpile of chemical munitions, in light of the discovery that Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi—who renounced chemical weapons in December 2003, formally joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in February 2004, and even allowed international inspectors to eliminate his stockpiles—had cheated on his agreement by failing to declare all his chemical weapons?

(12) On February 4, 2014, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is in a stronger position today than one year earlier:  “Well, the prospects are right now that he is actually in a strengthened position than when we discussed this last year, by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons, as slow as that process has been.”

  • Given that Assad continues to hold power and his military is continuing the fight against the opposition, do you agree that Assad is in a stronger position today than in 2013?  If so, what additional steps will the administration take compel Assad to “step aside,” as President Obama demanded in August 2011?

On Egypt

(13) You said in October 2013 that the “recalibration of assistance” to Egypt “will be on a basis of performance, and it’ll be on the basis of what evolves over the course of the roadmap in the next months.”

  • Given that the FY 2015 budget request includes $1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Egypt, do you believe that Cairo is properly carrying out the “roadmap” you described in October 2013?
  • What steps you are taking to incentivize Egypt’s interim government not only to promote a more inclusive and representative democratic state that respects the rule of law, but also to implement much needed economic reforms in the country?

On the Asia-Pacific

(14) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Katrina McFarland recently said in a public forum:  “Right now, the [Asia Rebalance] is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen” due to cuts in the defense budget.  Although McFarland later clarified and pulled back her statement, her remark reinforced looming questions about America’s ability to credibly “rebalance” to Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

  • Secretary Kerry, what assurances can you provide our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific that the United States will provide the diplomatic and military resources needed to fully realize the rhetoric of the Asia Rebalance?

(15) In November 2013, the People’s Republic of China announced the creation of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that covered large portions of the East China Sea, including the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands.  Senior officials in the Chinese military also reportedly said that establishing a second ADIZ over the South China Sea would be in the country’s interest.  However, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russell recently told House lawmakers that “[a]ny Chinese claim to maritime rights not based on claimed land features [in the South China Sea] would be inconsistent with international law.”

  • What do you believe were China’s motives in imposing an Air Defense Identification Zone over areas in East China Sea where it has conflicting maritime and territorial claims with its neighbors?  How concerned are you that China may move to impose an Air Identification Defense Zone over the South China Sea?
  • Given that both China and Taiwan have similar claims in the East and South China Seas, how do you view Taiwan’s more responsible approach to the issue, as characterized by the fisheries agreement reached between Taipei and Tokyo last spring?

On Latin America

(16) Since nationwide demonstrations in Venezuela began a month ago, the regime of Nicolás Maduro, successor of the late strongman Hugo Chavez, has taken actions to silence critics, control the flow of information, and violently suppress political dissent.  News reports now indicate that clashes between Venezuelan security forces and protestors have resulted in at least 21 deaths and over 250 injuries.

  • Is the Obama administration prepared to use existing authorities to impose targeted sanctions, asset freezes, and visa bans on Venezuelan government officials who are planning or orchestrating human rights abuses and other forms of egregious violence in Venezuela?
  • How is the United States working with America’s democratic partners in the Latin America to dissuade the Maduro regime from escalating its use of violence or otherwise violating the human rights of the Venezuelan people?

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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