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Nomination of Christopher R. Hill to be Ambassador to Iraq--Continued

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NOMINATION OF CHRISTOPHER R. HILL TO BE AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ--Continued -- (Senate - April 21, 2009)

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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from New Jersey for a very precise and important set of arguments about why we ought to proceed forward, and I appreciate his taking time to come to the Senate floor to do that.

Momentarily, it is my hope we will be able to propound a unanimous consent agreement. We are just waiting, I hope, for the word to come back from Senator Kyl shortly. I hope that can come very quickly so there could be a vote around 5:15 on this nomination.

Let me just say a couple of words about a few of the things that have been said. Obviously, we hope to be able to divide up the remaining time between us and then conclude the debate, but part of what the Senator from Kansas has said, both this morning and this afternoon, is that the human rights envoy, then Jay Lefkowitz of the State Department, was not invited to take part in the six-party talks per an exchange that Senator Brownback had with Chris Hill--with Ambassador Hill--before the Armed Services Committee.

Ambassador Hill has addressed this issue, I have addressed this issue on a number of occasions, and we have really laid this out. The full text of his remarks has been submitted for the Record. In a nutshell, let me just state one last time for the record exactly what happened.

As Ambassador Hill made clear at the time, his promise to Senator Brownback applied to the future negotiating sessions, except those specifically dealing with nuclear disarmament where the Human Rights Assistant Secretary had no portfolio whatsoever. To make it clear, the Senator from Kansas somehow believes that no matter what, Special Envoy Lefkowitz should have been invited to that, but that was not a decision that was up to Ambassador Hill. Let's be clear about this. That was not Ambassador Hill's decision to make.

The New York Times on January of 2008 reported that the decision about who would attend the six-party talks and what issues would be discussed was made by Secretary Rice and the President. Here are the words of Secretary Rice speaking about Human Rights Envoy Jay Lefkowitz as quoted by the New York Times on January 23, 2008. ``He,'' Lefkowitz, ``doesn't work on the six-party talks.'' This is Secretary of State Rice talking, rebuking her own Assistant Secretary.

He doesn't work on the six-party talks. He doesn't know what's going on in the six-party talks and he certainly has no say in what American policy will be in the six-party talks.

That is exactly what Secretary Rice said. So the Senator may have a quarrel but it is not with Ambassador Hill. Secretary Rice was very explicit in that rebuke. Quoting Secretary Rice, again from the New York Times, this is what she said:

I know where the President stands, and I know where I stand, and those are the people who speak for American policy.

That is the level of the rebuke you are talking about here. It is almost unprecedented, frankly. And here the Senator is, trying to carry water for this rebuked Assistant Secretary who was inappropriately asserting himself at that time. But regardless of whether you think he should have been there or should not have been there, it was not Ambassador Hill's decision to make. He took daily instructions from the President and from the Secretary of State, from the State Department. That is what a good diplomat and negotiator at important talks like that does and that is exactly what he did.

I ask unanimous consent the full text of the article in the New York Times be printed in the Record.

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Mr. KERRY. The second thing alleged here is somehow Ambassador Hill failed to implement the North Korean Human Rights Act. That is not accurate. Facts are facts. Facts, as has been said many times, are stubborn things. Consistent with the Human Rights Act, Ambassador Hill secured the admission of the first North Korean refugees into the United States in 2006. He worked to ensure the safe passage to South Korea of asylum seekers from the North who had been detained in other east Asian countries. He backed increased funding of radio broadcasting by Radio Free Asia. During Ambassador Hill's tenure as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, the State Department approved the expenditure of $2 million of our taxpayer funds to sponsor the Seoul Summit on North Korean Human Rights in South Korea, in December of 2005. Ambassador Hill met regularly with North Korean refugees and defectors who made it out of North Korea.

The record simply doesn't substantiate the notion that Chris Hill was inattentive to human rights. In the morning debate, the Senator from Kansas showed a dramatic picture of starving North Korean children. Noting that today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, Senator Brownback said we should not be indifferent to the suffering of North Korean people and we must not consider human rights inside North Korea to be a low priority. We all agree with the Senator. Of course we should not allow it to be a low priority.

He noted that unnamed ``U.S. diplomats'' had opposed decisive action to bomb the rail lines leading to Auschwitz during World War II and said the current situation with north Korea is ``eerily familiar.''

All of us should listen carefully to what the Senator has said about North Korea and its oppression. None of us should forget the lessons of the Holocaust. We have an obligation to respond to great humanitarian crises, whether they are caused by nature or by man.

But to show a picture of starving North Korean children in the debate on Ambassador Hill's qualifications and to imply somehow that he is indifferent to their plight does a good public servant an enormous disservice--particularly one whose record is what I have described, who time and again has fought for the implementation of the Human Rights Act and who has taken personal risks on occasion to enforce human rights.

The date of the photograph that was there was not in fact declared, but I believe it was during the great Republic of North Korea's famine in 1996 and 1997. If that is true, that is 10 years before Ambassador Chris Hill began his duties as the lead envoy in the six-party talks. So, again, to create some sense of linkage or nexus here is inappropriate.

In any case, the bottom line is this. No one is going to deny that North Korea is a country on the brink of famine and failure. It is a failed place. None of us should be idle in the face of this basic threat to the health of the North Korean people and to the security of the peninsula and of the region. It is deplorable that North Korea has recently expelled food aid workers. I hope they are going to reverse that decision. We are going to listen carefully to testimony before our committee on May 6. We will have a comprehensive view on what is happening in North Korea and what the possibilities are for our policy. But let me emphasize: Chris Hill never ignored that situation. He worked with skill and persistence to secure direct access for five U.S. NGOs, including Christian groups, to provide aid to millions of North Koreans, including hungry children exactly like the kids who were depicted in the photograph on the floor this morning.

Thanks to the work of Ambassador Hill, Korean-speaking U.S. aid workers in 2008-2009 were able to travel to remote parts of North Korea never before reached by U.S. aid workers. That is an extraordinary success for which Ambassador Hill ought to be congratulated. They were able to establish five field offices in rural areas where they had never been before. That is a success. They were able to conduct unannounced visits to schools, hospitals, and orphanages. That is an accountability we never had before. That is a success. They were able to provide 100,000 tons of food aid to help people feed literally millions of North Korean children. That is a success.

This was the first U.S. food aid to North Korea delivered by U.S. NGOs since the year 2000 and this was delivered in the most intrusive, comprehensive monitoring system ever permitted by North Korea. Ambassador Hill deserves praise for his efforts on this issue, not the criticism that was implied on the floor of the Senate.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at 5:15 p.m. today all postcloture time be yielded back and the Senate proceed to vote on the confirmation of the nomination of Christopher Hill to be Ambassador to Iraq, that the time until then be equally divided and controlled between myself and Senator Brownback or designees of each of us, and that the 10 minutes immediately prior to the vote be equally divided and controlled between myself and Senator Brownback; further, that the time controlled by the Republicans, of that time, Senator Kyl control 15 minutes, Senator McCain control 20 minutes, and that upon confirmation, the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, no further motions be in order, the President be immediately notified of the Senate's action and the Senate then resume legislative session.

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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, we have given Senators now a chance to air these grievances and raise questions and engage in a pretty full debate on the nomination of Chris Hill. I appreciate the issues my colleague has raised. I know he is deeply concerned about these, and has been one of the leaders in the Senate on the subject of human rights. We all respect that and we are determined in the course of our hearings and in the course of the work of the committee to keep that issue front and center, not just with respect to North Korea but with every country where those issues exist.

I do think it is unfair to suggest that Ambassador Chris Hill has done anything less than meet the standards we would expect with respect to his stewardship, both with the six-party talks as well as in the rest of his career, and I have talked about that a great deal. We have heard the arguments and now is the time to vote. We need an ambassador in Iraq. We need this ambassador in Iraq.

This should not be a controversial nomination. Ambassador Hill is a proven expert negotiator. He is a problem solver and one of the best diplomats we have in the corps. As has been discussed, he has a great deal of experience with the skills that matter the most for the resolution of the remaining issues in Iraq, and he has been particularly involved in ethnic and sectarian conflicts not unlike those he will face when he gets over there. He has worked on multiparty international negotiations, and he is going to have to bring every skill he has learned in the fullness of his career to this task.

Particularly, I want to say we join Senator Brownback in expressing the full concern of every Member of the Senate that we give meaning to the words ``never again.'' That is a solemn responsibility. It is a solemn responsibility particularly on this Holocaust Remembrance Day.

But it is also clear from the record, from Secretary Rice's own words, that the decision to leave the Special Envoy for Human Rights out of these negotiations was not made by Chris Hill and we should not, in our votes today, hold that decision of his superiors against Chris Hill. It was a decision which Secretary Rice has spoken to publicly and I think we have addressed the major concern that was raised by the Senator from Kansas.

We have also shown the fullness of Chris Hill's own record on human rights and I think that record speaks for itself.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The time of the Senator has expired.

Mr. KERRY. I thank the Chair and look forward to this vote. I hope it will be an overwhelming vote in favor of our ambassador to Iraq.

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