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Susan Rice Confirmation Hearing
Opening Remarks Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

CQ Transcripts Wire
Monday, January 19, 2009 10:37 AM

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MASS.): Thank you very much, Senator Dodd. It's my pleasure, on behalf of the entire committee and the Senate, to welcome you here, Dr. Rice. We're really pleased to have you here today.

And obviously, I can see that some members of your family are here, ranging up and down the generations I see. We'd love to have you introduce them, if you would. Can you just share with us quickly who they are? And then I'd like to say a few words and I know Senator Lugar would too.

SUSAN RICE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I really am very pleased and proud that my family can be here. I'd like to introduce my mother, Lois Rice; my father, Emmett Rice; my son, Jake; my daughter Maris; and my husband, Ian Cameron. They are a wonderful source of joy and support to me. And I couldn't imagine taking on this responsibility without them.

KERRY: Well, we're really happy to welcome all of you. I know how proud you are. I listen to all those youngest-ever comments. And Senator Lugar and I were up here feeling grayer and grayer.

(LAUGHTER)

But there's every reason to be enormously proud. And we welcome you.

As point of personal privilege, I'd like to just say to members of the committee, we're delighted to welcome our old colleague and friend. Senator Tim Wirth is here in -- in his role as president of the U.N. Foundation, which is a very important addendum to our efforts here.

And we're delighted to welcome you back, Senator.

The United States' ambassador to the United Nations is, without question, one of the most important national security and diplomatic posts in the administration, and one from which there is an enormous ability to achieve a great deal.

The administration -- the Obama Administration has recognized this by rightfully restoring it to cabinet level. And I believe that President-elect Obama has made an outstanding choice in Dr. Susan Rice.

I have had the pleasure of working closely with Dr. Rice over the past years. And I can tell you she is exceptionally talented, fiercely conscientious, and one of the most dedicated public servants that I've met. She has been a trusted personal adviser. And I've worked with her closely on a special project outside of the Senate. And she's a friend. And I couldn't be happier than to welcome her here for confirmation to such a key position.

The choice of Dr Rice for this elevated position is further evidence of the Obama administration's commitment to a renewed diplomatic and multilateral presence on the world stage. The United Nations can play a crucial role in mobilizing the world to meet complex international issues that are critical to our national interests. From Iran's nuclear program to climate change to the crisis in Darfur and beyond, we are living in a world where the actions of a single nation are profoundly and increasingly inadequate to meet the challenges that we face.

As I and others have said, if there were no United Nations, we would have to invent one. It is in our national and moral interest to cultivate a forum where frozen conflicts can be resolved before they become hot wars, where peace can be forged and protected, where global consensus on transnational threats and challenges can be translated into bold action, and where America can lead by working cooperatively with willing and able partners.

At its most effective, the U.N. can and will be vital to our interests.

The world is changing and it's changing rapidly. Narrower traditional notions of national interest are giving way to a broader, more holistic view, one that appreciates how the mass movements of people, melting ice caps, violent religious extremism and global health challenges like HIV-AIDS are all interrelated facets of our security picture. And they all deserve greater attention.

That is the world the next administration inherits. And Dr. Rice brings a deep understanding to addressing these issues. In fact, her own writings and testimony on failed states and transnational challenges have helped to educate many of us about the new and inescapably global set of realities that we face.

Dr. Rice brings insight and passion to an institution that will benefit from both. There have long been values of our foreign policy debate that prefer to -- that somehow we leave aside, inadvertently, I think. But they are often left aside. Certainly, the rhetoric and reality, there's a gap between them. And there are many voices in that debate that prefer to dwell on all that the United Nations is not, rather than how it does serve our interests today, or what it can become if we commit ourselves to strengthening it.

On the other hand, support for the United Nations must not lead us to whitewash the institution's shortcomings any more than we should obviously accept the blanket condemnations. In the end, it diminishes the work of many good people. And it really reduces our ability to make the institution what it can be.

Support for the U.N. requires us to address the legitimate flaws, including corruption scandals, abuse by peacekeepers and bureaucratic gridlock, not to mention a sometimes-unbalanced approach to the Middle East and an unaccountable Human Rights Council.

Sometimes, also, working through the United Nations has proved frustrating when it comes to addressing humanitarian crises in places like Burma, Darfur, and Zimbabwe, and threats like Iran's nuclear program. Clearly, today, we look forward to hearing Dr. Rice's thoughts on how we can all join together to work to enhance the U.N.'s ability to deal with each of these issues multilaterally.

But as we work toward making the U.N. a more effective and efficient body, we absolutely should not lose sight of the many ways in which it currently serves our interests. From managing over 90,000 peacekeepers in 16 missions around the world despite chronic underfunding, to providing food and shelter to the over eight million refugees worldwide, to monitoring elections in Iraq, to much-needed coordination efforts in Afghanistan, the U.N. and its affiliated agencies take on issues that no nation can or should take on alone. And in many cases, it is the best equipped or the only multilateral institution capable of doing so.

The United Nations also advances important international norms that will benefit all nations. A U.N. panel of top scientists ratifies the world's consensus on the threat of climate change. The U.N.'s championing of the core principles of nuclear nonproliferation are vital, as well as the indispensable work of the IAEA's monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. All of these have significantly improved our security.

And the U.N. also plays a critical role in advancing causes that everyone should be able to agree on -- the fight against global hunger, global poverty and the fight for global health.

The United States' support for the U.N. is critical. We are the largest contributor to both the regular and the peacekeeping budgets, at 22 percent and 27 percent respectively. However, we are routinely behind in those payments. And we handicap the United Nations in doing so.

The administration's budget requests in recent years, particularly for peacekeeping, have not been enough to pay our bill. That's wrong.

If we expect the United Nations to fulfill its important missions, we need to do better by upholding our end of the bargain. And that means paying our share in full and on time.

Representing America at a body as complex as the United Nations is a huge challenge. I am absolutely confident that Dr. Rice is up to that challenge. She has served in senior positions on the National Security Council. And as referenced, as the youngest-ever assistant secretary of state, she was responsible for U.S. policy toward 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, including 43 embassies, over 5000 foreign service employees, an operating budget of over $100 million and a program budget of approximately $160 million.

Dr. Susan Rice is one of our most capable national security thinkers. She understands that our country is strongest when we enlist others in our cause, when we share our burdens and when we lead strategically.

It is my pleasure to support her nomination as U.N. ambassador, one who brings both a vital respect for the U.N. and the courage to challenge it and improve it.

And I look forward to confirming her as our next ambassador to the United Nations.

Senator Lugar?

LUGAR: Mr. Chairman, I join you in your warm welcome to Dr. Susan Rice.

We first met as members of a selection committee for Rhodes Scholars, interviewing the distinguished students and making a selection. And I appreciated that day with Dr. Rice and appreciated her testimony before this committee over the course of the years, most recently on Darfur in 2007, when she brought several insights to those proceedings.

The position of ambassador to the United Nations is unique, as you pointed out, Mr. Chairman, among diplomatic assignments. The occupant is responsible not only for conducting diplomacy on most of the critical foreign policy issues of the day, but also for United States stewardship of a multi-lateral institution that plays a central role in global affairs.

The diplomatic challenges that will face our nominee include the nuclear confrontations with Iran and North Korea; the spread of HIV- AIDS and other diseases; refugee crises related to Iraq, Darfur, and other locations; and numerous other problems that confront the United Nations every day.

And while we all hope for a United Nations that can fulfill its potential as a forum for international problem solving and dispute resolution, often the U.N. has fallen short of our hopes, particularly in areas related to management, to financial transparency, and oversight.

The influence and capabilities possessed by the United Nations come from the credibility associated with countries acting together in a well-established forum with well-established rules. Scandals, mismanagement and bureaucratic stonewalling squander this precious resource.

This Committee and others in Congress have spent much time examining how the United States can work cooperatively with partners at the U.N. to streamline its bureaucracy, improve its transparency, and make it more efficient as it undertakes vital missions.

I recently read in the "Washington Post" and the "Wall Street Journal" reports that the General Assembly shut down the U.N.'s Procurement Taskforce that was rooting out corrupt U.N. officials and had banned 36 international companies from further business with the United Nations. Regrettably, it appears that the U.N. has already begun to curtail or terminate many of the task force's ongoing investigations.

Many barriers exist to successful U.N. reform. Too many diplomats and bureaucrats in New York see almost any structural or budgetary change at the U.N. as an attempt to diminish their prerogatives. Our next ambassador must be dedicated to continuing meaningful reform at the U.N. in spite of the daunting atmosphere. Our atmosphere must be -- our ambassador must be a forceful advocate for greater efficiency and transparency and an intolerance of corruption.

The performance of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva also continues to be a source of concern in the Congress and among the American people. Sessions of the council have focused almost exclusively on Israel. Much less well-known is the role of the United Nations Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Affairs Committee in New York, which has voted in the past to condemn the deplorable human rights situations in Iran, North Korea, Belarus, and Burma -- countries which the Human Rights Council in Geneva has often ignored.

Now despite these and other difficulties, the United Nations remains an essential component of global security policy.

The World Health Organization, the World Food Program, for example, have performed vital functions, reduced U.S. burdens, and achieved impressive humanitarian results for many years.

United Nations peacekeeping missions have contributed significantly to international stability and helped rebuild shattered societies. Currently, there are sixteen peacekeeping operations ranging from Haiti to the Congo to East Timor. And some 100,000 civilian, military and police forces from around the world are helping to stabilize some of the most war-ravaged places on our earth. In 2008, there were 130 peacekeeping fatalities, the second highest level since 1994.

The ability of U.N. peacekeeping missions to be a force- multiplier was underscored by a 2006 General Accounting Office analysis of the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in Haiti. The GAO concluded, and I quote, "The U.N. budgeted $428 million for the first 14 months of the mission. A U.S. operation of the same size and duration would have cost an estimated $876 million," end of quote.

The report noted that the U.S. contribution to the Haiti peacekeeping mission was $116 million, roughly one-eighth the cost of a unilateral American mission. Now most Americans want the United Nations to help facilitate international burden sharing in times of crisis. They want the U.N. to be a consistent and respected forum for diplomatic discussions. And they expect the U.N. to be a positive force in the global fight against poverty, disease, and hunger.

But Americans also are frequently frustrated with the United Nations. And the job of United States ambassador to the U.N. involves not only dealing with policies and politics in New York. Our U.S. ambassador must also be able to communicate to -- to Congress and to the American people why it is important to pay our U.N. dues on time, why peacekeeping operations benefit the United States, and why cooperation at the U.N. is essential to United States foreign policy.

I welcome the distinguished nominee and look forward to hearing how she and the Obama administration intend to address these important issues.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.

KERRY: Thank you very much, Senator Lugar.

And now, Dr. Rice, we look forward to your testimony.

Thank you.

RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Ranking Member Lugar, and distinguished members of the committee, I am really deeply honored to appear before you as the president- elect's designee to be the United States' permanent representative to the United Nations.

I want to thank the president-elect for his confidence in naming me to this vitally important position.

Mr. Chairman, my warmest congratulations to you as the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. You have been an ardent champion of a principled U.S. foreign policy to ensure this country's security and prosperity.

There is a great tradition of probity on this committee, dating back to Senator Fulbright. The man seated next to you, Senator Lugar, continued that tradition through his years as chairman. And I know you will do so with great distinction as well.

I am very grateful to you both for convening this hearing swiftly to consider my nomination.

I also want to express my gratitude to Senator Susan Collins and Senator Evan Bayh for their very, very generous introductions of me and for their extraordinary service to our country. I'm very appreciative of their support.

Mr. Chairman, like many Americans, I first heard of the United Nations as a child about the age of my daughter Maris. My initial images of the U.N. were not of the blue helmets of its peacekeepers or the white vehicles of its life-saving humanitarian workers, but the orange and black of the UNICEF boxes I carried door to door each Halloween. UNICEF and the U.N. embodied to me then, as it does still today, our shared responsibility to one another as human beings and our collective potential and, indeed, obligation to forge a more secure, more just and more prosperous future.

As I grew up during the Cold War, I then saw the U.N. frequently paralyzed by geopolitical and ideological showdowns between the United States and the Soviet Union. Later, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, I joined millions in hoping that the vital mission of the U.N. could be advanced through enhanced cooperation.

Serving in the Clinton Administration in the 1990s, I had the opportunity to gain firsthand an appreciation of the organization's strengths and understanding of its weaknesses. In the wake of the Cold War, the U.N. was modernized in important ways and did substantial good, from Namibia to Mozambique, from El Salvador to South Africa and Cambodia. At the same time, there were clear failures, witnessed in the unimaginable human tragedies of Somalia, Rwanda and Srebrenica, and in the inability to effectively deal with crises in Haiti and Angola.

Mr. Chairman, I believe we now stand at yet another defining moment, terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, civil conflict, climate change, genocide, extreme poverty, and deadly infectious disease are global challenges that no single nation can defend against alone. They require common action, based on a common purpose and a vision of shared security.

If confirmed, I welcome the challenge and am -- will be humbled by the privilege to serve our country at the United Nations, where I will work to promote and implement President-elect Obama's commitment to strengthening our common security by investing in our common humanity.

More than 60 years ago, our leaders understood that a global institution that brings all of the world's countries together would enhance, not diminish, our influence, and bring more security to our people and to the world.

The president-elect has affirmed America's commitment to the United Nations as an indispensable, if imperfect, institution for advancing America's security and well-being in the 21st century.

The goal of our diplomacy at the United Nations must be to make it a more perfect forum to address the most pressing global challenges, to promote peace, to support democracy and to strengthen respect for human rights.

My most immediate objective, should I be confirmed, will be to refresh and renew America's leadership in the United Nations and bring to bear the full weight of our influence, voice, resources, values and diplomacy at the United Nations.

The choices we face in addressing global challenges can often be difficult, allowing conflict and suffering to spread, mobilizing an American response or supporting a multi-national United Nations effort. The UN is not a cure-all. We must be clear-eyed about the problems, challenges and frustrations of the institution. But it is a global institution that can address a tremendous range of critical American and international interests.

I know the U.N. sometimes deeply frustrates Americans. And I am acutely aware of its shortcomings. Yet, all nations understand the importance of this organization. And that ironically is why countries like Sudan, North Korea and Cuba work so hard to render bodies like the U.N. Human Rights Council ineffective and objectionable. It is why efforts to pass Security Council resolutions on abuses in places like Zimbabwe to Burma occasion such fierce debate. It's also why many try to use the U.N. to willfully and unfairly condemn our ally Israel. When effective and principled U.N. action is blocked, our frustration naturally grows. But that should only cause us to redouble our efforts to ensure that the United Nations lives up to its founding principles.

Today, there is more on the agenda of the United Nations than ever before. Nearly 90,000 U.N. peacekeepers are deployed in 16 missions around the world. The U.N. is also playing vital roles in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the United Nations is at the center of global efforts to address climate change and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, to stabilize weak and failing states, to prevent and resolve conflict, reduce poverty, combat HIV-AIDS, assist refugees and the internally displaced, feed the hungry, promote food security and confront genocide and crimes against humanity.

If confirmed, Mr. Chairman, I'll work to strengthen the U.N.'s effectiveness to fill -- to fulfill its many important missions. And working closely with the secretary of state, I will devote particular attention to four areas.

First, I will work to improve the capacity of the United Nations to undertake complex peace operations more effectively. We need to weigh new U.N. mandates more carefully and review existing mandates as they come up for renewal.

The fact that more than one year after the force was established, the crucial U.N. mission in Darfur is only at half its authorized strength is patently unacceptable. We should work to build global peacekeeping capacity and help streamline the U.N.'s, as well as our own procedures, for developing -- for deploying and supporting U.N. missions.

Second, the Obama administration will provide strong leadership to address climate change.

Under President-elect Obama, the United States will engage vigorously in U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations, while we pursue progress in sub-global, regional and bilateral settings. To tackle global warming, all major emitting nations must be part of the solution. Rapidly developing economies, such as China and India, must join in making and meeting their own binding and meaningful commitments. And we should help the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change.

If confirmed, I look forward to advancing the diplomatic and development elements of the president's climate change agenda.

Third, preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons is an enormous security challenge that deserves top-level attention.

Senator Lugar, thanks to your bold leadership and vision, and that of others, we have made some meaningful progress in this regard, but the threat remains urgent.

It is essential to strengthen the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime, dealing with those nations in violation of this regime, and upholding our obligations to work towards the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

The United Nations plays a significant role in this regime. Our objective for a successful nonproliferation treaty review conference in 2010, one that advances the world's nonproliferation and disarmament architecture and improves it for the 21st century.

Fourth, billions of the world's people face the threats of poverty, disease, environmental degradation, venal leadership, extremism, corruption and violence. Conflict-ridden and fragile states also can incubate these and other threats that rarely remain confined within national borders.

President-elect Obama has long stressed the importance of working with others to promote sustainable economic development, to combat poverty, enhance food and economic security, including my making Millennium Development Goals America's goals.

If confirmed, I look forward to working with member states to advance this critical agenda at the United Nations.

Regional political and security challenges will inevitably remain a central element of the U.S. agenda at the United Nations.

Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon demands the urgent attention of the Security Council.

Multilateral pressure is needed to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

A strengthened U.N. role in Afghanistan and Iraq will promote governance, support elections and strengthen political institutions.

The ongoing genocide in Sudan, the persistent violence in Eastern Congo, and the persecution of innocents in Zimbabwe and Burma all require much more effective action by the international community.

And recent events remind us, yet again, of the importance of working to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve their goal of a peaceful two-state solution that achieves lasting security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians.

I will work to enable the United Nations to play a constructive role in pursuit of this goal.

The Obama administration will also promote democracy, understanding that the foundations of democracy are best seeded from within.

We will stand up for human rights around the world. Thus, we will work closely with friends, allies, the United Nations secretariat and others to seek to improve the performance and the prospects of the Human Rights Council, which has strayed far from the principles embodied in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The United States will address all these challenges unencumbered by the old divisions of the 20th century. We cannot afford any longer to be burdened with labels such as "rich" and "poor," developed" or "developing," "North" or "South," "non-aligned" or "Western." In the 21st century, these false divisions rarely serve anybody's interests.

In facing the challenges of the scale that lie before us, all peoples and all nations should focus on what we have in common -- our shared desire to live freely and securely in health, with hope and with opportunity. Those are the interests and aspirations of the American people. And they are shared by billions around the world.

Mr. Chairman, the United Nations must be strengthened to meet 21st century challenges.

In cooperation with other governments, we will pursue substantial and sustained improvements across the full range of management and performance challenges.

Important work on all of these issues has been undertaken. But we have much farther to go. Progress and reform are essential to address flaws in the institutions, to meet the unprecedented demands made on it and to sustain confidence in and support for the UN.

I pledge to you to work tirelessly to see that American taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and effectively.

To lead from a position of strength, the United States must consistently act as a responsible, fully-engaged partner in the U.N.

President-elect Obama believes that the United States should pay our dues to the U.N. in full and on time. I look forward to working with you and other members of Congress to ensure that we do so, as well as to pay down our newly mounting arrears and to support legislation to permanently lift the cap on U.S. payments to the U.N. peacekeeping budget.

If I am confirmed, I'll have the great privilege of leading our hardworking and dedicated team at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

I intend to work with the secretary of state to attract our best diplomats to serve at the mission.

I will also work to make sure that the new U.S. mission building is completed as expeditiously as possible and provides our diplomats with the tools they need to be safe, effective and successful.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, if confirmed, I will be an unflinching advocate of America's interests and values at the United Nations. As I seek to maximize cooperation to address the most serious global challenges we confront, I will listen. I will engage. I will collaborate. I will go to the U.N. convinced that this institution has great current value, even greater potential and still great room still for improvement. I commit to being direct and honest in New York and always forthright with Congress. I will welcome the advice and support of members of this committee. I look forward to working closely with each of you. And I invite you -- each of you to come to New York to contribute directly to our shared efforts to strengthen and support this important institution.

Mr. Chairman, if confirmed, it will be my highest honor to support our country's interest in renewing our global leadership and effecting critical and lasting change. In the 21st Century, we can and we must transcend old barriers, build new bridges, strengthen our common security and invest in our common humanity.

I thank you.

I'd like to ask that my entire statement be submitted for the record.

And I'm very pleased now to answer your questions.

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