U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today spoke at the confirmation hearings for the ambassadorial nominees to Chad and Libya.
The Senator's remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Today we are pleased to welcome two nominees as ambassador to Libya and Chad, two difficult and important assignments. The Maghreb and Sahel regions are of increasing strategic significance for the United States, and I look forward to hearing your views on these critical and interlinked regions.
We can never forget Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other American public servants -- Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, and Glen Doherty -- who tragically lost their lives in the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September. We also remember Anne Smedinghoff, whose death in Afghanistan just last month reminded us, once again, the danger that many diplomats face.
The attacks on Benghazi raise questions about how we can best help those serving in our embassies do their jobs and reach-outside-the-wire and still keep our people safe and secure. I am committed to doing all we can to ensuring that Congress does its part in providing the tools our embassies need to operate as effectively and safely as possible around the world.
I look forward to hearing the views of both our nominees on balancing embassy security with the need to reach-outside-the-wire and engage with the people in the countries they serve.
That said -- we cannot let the events in Benghazi overshadow the slow but positive progress that Libya continues to make in fulfilling the promise of the revolution. There is no doubt that progress in Libya has been messy, but the political process is continuing with the Parliamentary elections last summer to form the General National Congress.
We've seen the emergence of an active civil society that remains engaged over how best to move the country forward, an important ingredient for any democracy and there's no doubt that the U.S. enjoys a certain level of popularity in Libya that we saw in the aftermath of Ambassador Stevens' death when thousands took to the street against the extremists -- and in support of the United States.
A critical question is: how to harness that goodwill to help the Libyan people shape a safe, productive, and inclusive democracy that has a healthy relationship with the United States?
Still, the most vital and difficult question when it comes to Libya is one of security. The security situation remains precarious: recent car bomb outside the French embassy in Tripoli offers proof, as well as kidnappings and assassination attempts on public officials by militia groups that still operate with impunity. The central government is unable to assert its control outside of Tripoli, and the broader challenge of disarming and reintegrating former-fighters remains.
Border security is an issue of critical concern, as drug and arms trafficking threaten to destabilize the region.
These issues affect not only Libya but the entire region. We have already seen how arms flows coming out of Libya have added new weapons to existing conflicts. Borders in the Maghreb and Sahel are often amorphous. Old smuggling routes and new trafficking paths crisscross the region.
Too often, we adhere to our own bureaucratic boundaries between the Near East and North Africa on the one hand and Sub-Saharan Africa on the other. This hearing will allow us to cross those artificial barriers, take the thirty-thousand-foot view, and hopefully engage in a dialogue about both Libya and Chad in a regional context.
Chad is rife with challenges. It is among the world's poorest countries, with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world -- life expectancy under 50 and literacy rates that hover around 30 percent, and ranked 4th in the most recent Failed States Index.
But it has also stood with the French to help restore stability and security in Mali. In December, the United Nations' Consolidated Appeal said Chad was "on a steady path to sustainable recovery and stabilization." I hope that is the case. The Sahel is emerging as an increasingly significant strategic region and Chad is an important diplomatic posting for the United States.
With that, I welcome our nominees: The Honorable Deborah Kay Jones, of New Mexico, nominated to be Ambassador to Libya, and who will be introduced by my good friend, Tom Udall of New Mexico with whom I served in the House.
And Ambassador James Knight who comes to us from serving in Baghdad, and, previously, as chief of mission in Benin and held a number of other posts, mostly in Africa, in his over two decades with the Foreign Service.
I look forward to the testimony of our nominees.