Suggested Questions for Secretary of State Kerry's Senate Hearing

April 4, 2014

Secretary of State John F. Kerry is set appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, April 8th, to brief lawmakers on the Obama administration’s national security and foreign policy priorities in fiscal year (FY) 2015.  The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hopes that the following questions will be helpful as lawmakers, their staff, and the wider public 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 military occupation and military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

  • Secretary Kerry, how would you respond to critics who argue that America’s responses to Assad’s chemical attacks in Syria and Russia’s military occupation and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea have eroded U.S. credibility in the eyes of both our nation’s allies and our potential adversaries?

On Russia
(2) Although you reportedly warned your Russian counterpart that Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea would “close any available space for diplomacy,” Russia nonetheless annexed Crimea.  What’s more, a very large number of Russian troops have massed in Russia along Ukraine’s border.  Indeed, The New York Times reported on April 3rd that General Philip M. Breedlove, who serves as Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, “said on Wednesday that the 40,000 troops Russia has within striking distance of Ukraine are poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice and could accomplish their military objectives within three to five days.”

  • Secretary Kerry, is Ukraine strategically important to the United States?  If so, why?  Is it in America’s national security interests to see a reversal of Russia’s military occupation and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea?  If so, why? 
  • What specific steps is the Obama administration taking to punish President Putin and other officials who are responsible for the military occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea?  Will the response include sanctions against the senior Russian leadership, including President Putin?
  • What prevents Russian troops massed in Russia along the Ukrainian border from entering into Ukraine?  To what extent, if at all, is the United States sharing any intelligence with Ukraine’s government and military?  If Russian troops were to move into eastern Ukraine or towards Kyiv, what diplomatic, economic and military consequences would they face?
  • What measures is the administration taking 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?

(3) 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 (D-MA) 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, especially in light of Russia’s military occupation and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea?

(4) The New York Times and The Daily Beast have recently reported on Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) with the United States, which were not previously disclosed by the Obama administration.  The INF Treaty bans Russia from testing, producing, and possessing medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads—in other words, nuclear-armed missiles that would most directly threaten our in Europe.

  • 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 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.”

  • Secretary Kerry, 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) To contrast with Iran’s dangerous nuclear misbehavior, the United Arab Emirates concluded a 2009 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.

  • Why hasn’t the Obama administration done more to highlight Taiwan’s leadership in responsible nuclear behavior—in particular, Taiwan’s willingness to oblige itself in a legally-binding agreement not to pursue uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and other weapons-relevant nuclear activities that the United States is trying to convince Iran and others to abandon?
  • 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 in Asia and other regions refrain from uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and other sensitive nuclear activities?

On Afghanistan
(7) 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.

  • Secretary Kerry, why is Afghanistan’s long-term success in America’s national security interest?  After Afghanistan’s presidential election on April 5th, what new steps will the Obama administration take to conclude a bilateral security agreement with Kabul?
  • If U.S. forces withdraw completely from Afghanistan in 2014, what will happen to Afghanistan’s social and economic progress, including advances in human rights and women’s rights, education and literacy levels, and 10-years of nearly double-digit economic growth between 2002 and 2012?
  • 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
(8) Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper told Congress in February 2014 that “[t]he prospects are right now that [Assad] 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” (emphasis added).

  • Secretary Kerry, is the Assad regime’s strengthened position an unintended consequence of the U.S.-Russian plan to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons, or a larger failure of U.S. policy towards Syria?  Or, if you disagree with Director of National Intelligence Clapper’s assessment, then please explain why.

(9) Under the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) schedule for implementing the U.S.-Russian plan to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons, the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad is legally required to remove all chemical weapons from Syrian territory by February 2014.  The Assad regime, however, has removed only 50 percent of its declared chemical weapons from Syrian territory, and recently submitted a revised timeline that would extend the deadline to the end of April 2014.

  • Given that the Assad regime has repeatedly missed the OPCW’s deadlines, do you expect it to meet the new deadline for eliminating all declared chemical weapons by the end of April 2014?
  • Given that Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi—who, like Assad, renounced chemical weapons and even allowed international inspectors to eliminate his stockpiles—nonetheless cheated on his agreement by failing to declare all chemical weapons, how certain are you that the Assad regime has declared all chemical weapons?
  • How will the United States and the international community verify that the Assad regime has declared all chemical weapons and production facilities?  What consequences will the Assad regime face if it fails to declare any chemical weapons or production facilities?

(10) The Assad regime is reportedly preparing for elections this summer.  In March 2014, the Syrian parliament, which is effectively controlled by the Assad regime, passed a new election law that, among other things, requires that all candidates to have maintained continuous, permanent residence in Syria for no less than 10 years.  This new election law effectively bars most, if not all, major opposition candidates from running against Assad.  U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi warned:  “If there is an election, then my suspicion is that the opposition, all the oppositions, will probably not be interested in talking to the [Assad] government.”

  • Is it still the official policy of the United States for Bashar al-Assad to “step aside,” as President Obama said in August 2011?
  • Does the United States support or oppose the Assad regime holding a presidential election in Syria this year?  Is it even possible for Syria to have a free, fair, and verifiable election amid the regional war in the country and under the terms of the Assad-controlled Syrian parliament’s new election law?
  • If the presidential election proceeds this year, how could Assad be persuaded to resign when U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi himself says the prospect for the Geneva process would be virtually non-existent?

(11) The Action Group for Syria—which includes high-ranking officials from the United States and other world powers, the United Nations, the Arab League, and a host of Middle East nations—issued the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012 that outlines a roadmap for Syria to transition from the current government to new political order.  Although the United States and like-minded nations say that a transitional government under the Geneva Communiqué cannot include Assad, Russia disagrees.  Indeed, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad recently told the Wall Street Journal:  “I think Moscow was clear from the start that there’s nothing in the Geneva declaration about relinquishing power.”

  • How can international negotiations pursuant to the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012 have any chance at success when both Russia and the Assad regime disagree on an issue so fundamental as whether or not the Geneva Communiqué’s plan for a transitional government would include Assad?

(12) Ahmad Jarba, President of National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Force (Syrian National Coalition), recently urged once again the United States and other members of the international community to arm rebels with “sophisticated” weapons to shift the momentum against the Assad regime.  At a meeting of the 22-nation Arab League in Kuwait this week, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz said that “[t]he legitimate Syrian resistance has been betrayed by the international community and left easy prey to tyrant forces.”  He also urged the Arab League, which suspended the Assad regime’s membership in the bloc in November 2011, to hand over Syria’s seat to the Syrian National Coalition.

  • After three years of regional conflict in Syria, why has the United States not implemented a strategy to fully support moderate members of Syria’s external and internal opposition movements?
  • Does the United States support calls for the Arab League to turn over Syria’s seat in the bloc to the opposition Syrian National Coalition?
  • Have you met or spoken with Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir formally succeeded General Salim Idriss as the new head of the Free Syrian Army?  What can you tell us about him and his views about what a post-Assad Syria should look like? 
  • Will the U.S. State Department issue visas to the Free Syrian Army’s Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir and Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba, and allow them to meet not only with U.S. policymakers in the Obama administration, but also lawmakers in the U.S. Congress?

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.”

  • Secretary Kerry, 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 Asia and 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
(17) 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 killed 39 people, including 31 civilians, and injured 608 more.

  • Secretary Kerry, 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?  Are you willing to work with Congress to obtain additional authorities to impose sanctions on 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?

On U.S. Foreign Assistance
(18) 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.”

  • Secretary Kerry, 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?

(19) 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?

(20) 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?

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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