WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening statement at this morning’s hearing on the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

 

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“It is deeply reassuring that President Biden nominated you – a diplomat of immense expertise and skill – to be the next U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I believe you are superbly qualified to advance U.S. interests at the UN.” Senator Menendez said. “After four tumultuous, exhausting years, the United States needs renewal and engagement with key alliances and institutions. If confirmed, the world will be closely watching how we achieve this at the United Nations.”

Below are Senator Menendez’s remarks as delivered:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman and thank you for expediting the hearing of Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, so I appreciate your continued work in this regard.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, congratulations on your nomination. Welcome to your fourth Senate confirmation hearing.

It is deeply reassuring that President Biden nominated you – a diplomat of immense expertise and skill – to be the next U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I believe you are superbly qualified to advance U.S. interests at the UN. 

We are deeply grateful for your willingness and that of your family to return to serve our country at this critical time. We are at a pivotal moment – an opportunity to repair and restore our place in the world. But we have to be honest about the challenges we face, including at the United Nations, in light of the Trump administration’s abandonment of U.S. leadership. 

Over the last four years, the U.S. has accrued more than $1 billion in peacekeeping arrears, tried to pull out of the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic, undermined international protections for women, girls and LGBTI individuals, defunded or cut funding to key agencies like the UN Population Fund and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Meanwhile, China and other authoritarian countries have filled the vacuum left by our absence.

Ambassador, I hope you will agree that we cannot simply return to ‘business as usual’ at the UN. We must actively work to repair and strengthen that which has been undermined, including strong support for human rights and democracy, and, in the wake of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, restoring U.S. leadership at the World Health Organization and other international health organizations. 

As someone who believes in a tough, concerted approach to Iran, it was disheartening to watch the Trump administration alienate our allies with unilateral statements and actions. This isolating, self-defeating strategy culminated in a disastrous attempt to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran, where the U.S. could muster only one other Security Council vote and a failed effort to invoke the snapback of sanctions under the JCPOA. So I am very interested to hear how the Biden administration intends to re-engage our allies and hold Iran accountable, both for its nuclear program and its regional aggression.

Among your most difficult tasks will be to regain U.S. leverage and influence in the Security Council, where Russia and China have used their veto powers and ability to bully non-permanent members to stymie the Council’s work. They have shielded abusive regimes like the government of Burma, which committed genocide against the Rohingya, and the criminal dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, who has unleashed a campaign of crimes against humanity, resulting in the flight of more than 5.4 million Venezuelans from their country.

Russia and China have not been content to simply protect Bashar al-Assad from accountability for his crimes against the Syrian people. Russia has threatened a veto on UN Syrian assistance to reduce the border crossings through which assistance can reach rebel-held Syria to only one. This has made it even harder to obtain desperately-needed food, shelter and medical assistance for innocent civilians. I strongly urge you to do everything possible to keep this vital lifeline open upon your confirmation.

I am also concerned by the way China has sought to increase its role at the United Nations and in other international organizations, not because China does not deserve an appropriate role commensurate with its presence on the world stage, but because of its attempts to pervert and distort the core values that make the UN’s work so important.

China’s efforts to insert ‘Xi Jinping thought’ into UN resolutions has undermined the UN’s commitment to human rights. This is the same leader responsible for what the State Department has determined to be acts of genocide committed against 1.8 million Uyghur men, women and children in internment facilities.

When China has asserted leadership – and taken on leadership roles – in UN bodies, these organizations have ceased to uphold the values and interests of the broader international community. Bit by bit, step by step, they are instead made to reflect China’s unilateral priorities, often at the expense of human rights. And for all the bluster and tough-guy rhetoric, the record of the Trump administration to counter Beijing’s efforts has been one of abject failure.

Meanwhile, the net effect of the Trump administration’s policies towards North Korea has been to gut the UN sanctions regime painstakingly put in place to counter North Korean provocations, and its nuclear and missile programs. Today, thanks to Secretary Pompeo and President Trump, that sanctions regime is on life support. Last year, North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests – a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions – and the Administration did nothing. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how to address this pressing concern.

As you have witnessed firsthand, the United Nations plays a crucial role in the maintenance of peace and security across Africa. It supports six UN peacekeeping missions already, but there are other ongoing conflicts that also demand the urgent involvement of the UN. I am thinking in particular of Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Mozambique, where a failure to properly address crises has already generated large refugee flows, and in some cases drawn neighboring countries into active conflict.

Finally, one area I hope that you and the Biden administration will remain closely engaged on is preventing the United Nations and other affiliated organizations from being used as fora for biased attacks on Israel. Such actions make a negotiated two-state solution more difficult to achieve. 

After four tumultuous, exhausting years, the United States needs renewal and engagement with key alliances and institutions. If confirmed, the world will be closely watching how we achieve this at the United Nations. I look forward to hearing your views how you would achieve them.”

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