Budget Hearing - Department of State and Foreign Assistance

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the House Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations
Washington, DC
February 24, 2016

Well, thank you, Madam Chairman and Ranking Member Lowey and Mr. Chairman Rogers of the full committee, all the members, thank you very much. My apologies for being late. I had a phone call that came in that I had to take at the last minute, and I apologize for keeping any of you waiting.

Look, I want to just start by saying we really appreciate your tremendous work with us last year on a bipartisan basis to approve a budget that really does reflect our core national security needs. And I really look forward – this is the last budget of the Obama Administration, and I look forward to a collaborative effort again this year, because as the chairwoman said and as Chairman Rogers said, we’ve got this vast array of challenges, unprecedented in terms of time. I must say I blanched a little when you said since you’ve been sworn in there’s been an unprecedented amount of turmoil. I hope you weren’t inferring that that was because I was sworn in. But obviously, we’re facing challenges, needless to say.

Let me just say that $50 billion is the total request when you add the OCO and the core elements and the AID. It’s equal to about one percent of the federal budget, and it is, frankly, the minimum price of leadership at a time when America is diplomatically engaged more deeply than at any time I think in history in more places as the same time.

The scope of our engagement is absolutely essential in order to protect American interests, protect our communities, keep our citizens safe. We are confronted by perils that are as old as nationalist aggression and as new as cyber warfare, by dictators who run roughshod over global norms, and some who change their constitutions at the last minute to stay in office beyond the requisite periods of time and cause violence by doing so, by violent extremists who combine modern media with medieval thinking to wage war on civilization itself.

And despite the dangers, I believe deeply that we have many, many reasons for confidence as Americans. In recent years, our economy has added more jobs than the rest of the industrialized world combined. Our armed forces are second to none – and it’s not even close. Our alliances in Europe and Asia are vigilant and strong and growing stronger with the passage of the TPP. And our citizens are unmatched in the generosity of their commitment to humanitarian causes and civil society. We are the largest donor in the world to the crisis of Syrian refugees, over $1.5 billion. We can be proud of that.

We see and hear a lot of handwringing today, but I have to tell you , with all of my affection and the relationships that for many of my colleagues and the relationships I’ve built around the world, and my respect for the jobs that they do, I wouldn’t switch places with one foreign minister in the world, I believe nor would I, frankly, retreat to some illusionary sense of a golden age of the past. There are so many things that are happening in the world that are positive and constructive – massive numbers of people brought into the middle class, diseases being defeated, on the brink of – because of our efforts – a generation being born free of AIDS in Africa. I mean, this is extraordinary.

And there are great opportunities staring us in the face in terms of the energy future and other possibilities – the largest market in the world, frankly.

In the past year, we reached an historic multilateral accord with Iran that has cut off each of that country’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, thereby immediately making the world safer for our allies and for us. And I will note that the general in charge of the Israeli Defenses Forces General Eizenkot just the other day made a speech in which he said that the existential threat to Israel from Iran has been eliminated. That’s the chief of the IDF in Israel saying that himself.

In Paris in December, we joined governments from more than 190 nations – no easy task to get 190 nations to agree on something – but they approved a comprehensive agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit the most harmful consequences of climate change. Now we are determined to implement that accord and do everything possible to reduce the carbon pollution and grow economies at the same time. And we believe it is not a choice between one or the other.

Just this month, we officially signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership to ensure a level playing field for American businesses and workers, to reassert U.S. leadership in a region vital to our interests. And it will cut over 18,000 taxes on Americans’ goods that move into that region. We are asking Congress to approve that this year, so we can begin to accrue its benefits as quickly as possible.

In Europe, we are increasing support for our security reassurance initiative. We are increasing it fourfold and giving Russia a clear choice between continued sanctions or meeting its obligations to a sovereign and democratic Ukraine.

In our hemisphere, we are helping Colombia to end the globe’s longest running civil conflict, and we’re aiding our partners in Central America to implement reforms and reduce pressures for illegal migration.

In Asia, we are standing with our allies in opposition to threats posed by a belligerent North Korea. And we’re on the brink of achieving a strong United Nations Security Council resolution which is now both in Beijing and Washington for approval.

We are working with Afghanistan and Pakistan to counter violent extremism, deepening our strategic dialogue with India, supporting democratic gains in Sri Lanka and Burma, and encouraging the peaceful resolution of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea.

And with friends in fast-growing Africa, we have embarked on initiatives to combat hunger, to increase connectivity, to empower women, to train future leaders and fight back against such terrorist groups as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

Of course, we recognize that the threat posed by violent extremism extends far beyond any one region. You mentioned, Madam Chair and Ranking Member, the issue of education. And it is not going to be solved primarily by military means. So the approach we have adopted is comprehensive and it’s long term. Diplomatically, we’re striving to end conflicts that fuel extremism, such as those of Libya and Yemen. We are deeply involved in trying to resolve both. But we also work with partners more broadly to share intelligence, to tighten border security, improve governance, expand access to education, and promote job training and development.

And we have forged a 66-member coalition – an international coalition – to defeat the terrorist group Daesh, and I am absolutely confident we are going to do that.

Well, let me just say quickly that the most critical thing, obviously, on the table at this moment in terms of this conflict resolution is the effort with Russia and Syria. We can talk about it a little bit in our questions, I’m sure. But I talked this morning – the reason I’m late – I was talking with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we have a team that will be meeting in the next day or so – the task force for the ceasefire/cessation of hostilities. And we are – I’m not here to vouch that it’s absolutely going to work or it’s – but I’m telling you this is the one way that we can end this war.

The alternative is that the war gets worse, that Syria might be totally destroyed, not able to be put back together again. Everybody has said you’ve got to have a diplomatic solution at some point in time. The question will be: Is it ripe? Will Russia work in good faith, will Iran work in good faith to try to bring about the political transition that the Geneva communique calls for?

I just want to close by saying to everybody that I have been profoundly privileged to have the chance to work with all of you in support of an agenda that I believe reflects not only the most fundamental values and aspirations of the American people, but also carries with it, I am absolutely confident, the hopes of the world. That’s the responsibility that you all have, that’s what we’re going to be talking about this morning, and I thank you very much for your forbearance, Madam Chair.