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Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Nominations

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

I am honored to chair this hearing for the Ambassadorial nominees to South Sudan, Mali, Cape Verde, and Sweden. All four nominees have impressive records of accomplishment in international affairs and I look forward to hearing their priorities for advancing U.S. interests and goals.

If confirmed, the three nominees for Africa will serve at an exciting and critical time as we seek to deepen our economic ties and investments, promote development and health initiatives, expand our security cooperation in counterterrorism and counternarcotics, and broaden our conversations about shared values and priorities in Africa. In Europe, we expect to continue our long tradition of close cooperation with Sweden as it works through the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO on shared international priorities.

Our first nominee is Susan Page to be the United States' first Ambassador to the new country of South Sudan. This nomination recognizes the important role the U.S. played in the birth of that country and the importance of our longstanding relationship with the people of South Sudan. The excitement and jubilation surrounding the July 9 independence has been tempered somewhat by the sobering realities of the challenges facing the world's newest country.

Many issues with Sudan remain unresolved, including the status of Abyei, arrangements on oil transit and revenues, and demarcation of disputed border areas. Fierce fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile has resulted in deaths, displacements, and a lack of access for humanitarian workers. South-South violence is also significant; poverty is endemic; health, education, and infrastructure are all woefully inadequate. Despite these challenges, South Sudan is a place of hope for the millions of residents who waited decades for their freedom. The South has significant oil reserves, and, with proper agricultural assistance, has the potential to be a regional breadbasket in a region facing food insecurity.

Ms. Page is no newcomer to Sudan, having served from 2002-2005 as the legal advisor to the Sudan mediation process where she helped negotiate and draft key provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. She also served as the Director of the Rule of Law and Prison Advisory Unit at the UN Peacekeeping Mission to Sudan in Khartoum. Ms. Page has worked previously for the State Department and USAID in Botswana, Rwanda and Kenya, and currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the State Department.

Moving to West Africa, we consider the nomination of Mary Beth Leonard to be Ambassador to Mali, a poor, landlocked country that has emerged as a model of democratic governance in the past two decades and has developed vibrant economic sectors in gold mining and cotton production. After decades of dictatorship following independence, Mali's transition to democracy in the early '90s led to unprecedented civil liberties for the people of Mali and resulted in its first democratically-elected president turning over power peacefully to his successor after serving his limit of two terms.

The U.S. has had excellent relations with Mali and has found it a committed partner in fighting terrorism in the Sahel. We remain deeply concerned about the activities of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and possible spillover of arms from Libya. We also remain concerned about Mali's low standards of living as evidenced by its rankings toward the bottom of the world on indicators of health and education. Many Malians expected more of an economic benefit from democracy and are disappointed that it has not resulted in more tangible improvements for them. The Tuareg people of northern Mali have been fighting for a share of the country's development budget as well as a seat at the political table for many years.

Ms. Leonard is well placed to answer those challenges, having served previously as the Deputy Chief of Mission at our Embassy in Mali, and currently serving as Director of West African Affairs at the State Department. Her other Foreign Service postings include Suriname, South Africa, Togo, Namibia, and Cameroon, as well as several tours in Washington.

Adrienne O'Neal is the nominee to be Ambassador to Cape Verde, a small island nation off of Africa's West Coast with historic ties to Portugal and an impressive record of economic growth in recent years. With an average per capita income of more than $3,000, literacy rates of 84 percent, high rates of immunization, and relatively low rates of maternal death, Cape Verde's average standard of living is higher than most of its neighbors in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2010, it successfully completed a 5-year Millennium Challenge Corporation compact focused on improving the investment climate and upgrading infrastructure. Cape Verde's white, sandy beaches bring tourists to its shores, and its fishing industry provides important employment for its people as well as export revenue. U.S. interests in Cape Verde include large Cape Verdean expatriate populations, particularly in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as maritime security and counter-narcotics cooperation with the government of Cape Verde.

Ms. O'Neal brings to the position her experience as a Senior Foreign Service officer, currently serving as a Director in the Office of Career Development. She is a Portuguese-speaker who has served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Lisbon, and has held positions in our diplomatic missions in Mozambique, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires, and in the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs.

And, finally, we welcome a nominee to a country far from Africa, Mark Brzezinski, to be Ambassador to Sweden. Sweden is a strong partner and ally of the United States, supporting NATO and the United Nations and participating in multilateral military missions in Libya and Afghanistan. Sweden is well known in the developing world as a generous donor in the fields of humanitarian and development work.

Sweden's responsible management of its own economy spared it from the financial woes currently facing many of its European neighbors. But even Sweden faces critical challenges. The rise of the Sweden Democrats as a political party with white supremacist roots may signal wider discontent among the young and unemployed.

Mr. Brzezinski is an attorney at McGuire Woods focusing on international law who has made a name for himself as an expert in Russian affairs. He worked at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration as Director of Southeast and European Affairs, he serves on the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and he has worked taught at Columbia University's School for International Affairs.

I welcome all of today's distinguished nominees and look forward to hearing from them. I will now turn over the floor to Senator Isakson for his opening statement.


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