WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today addressed a joint conference committee about foreign affairs priorities in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. His prepared remarks follow:
Thank you. I’d like to briefly address a number of measures that I think merit inclusion in the final product we’re working toward.
I strongly urge inclusion of all the language on Burma in Title 12 of the House-passed bill. This title includes key provisions from the BURMA Act, my bill that was unanimously reported out of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Senators McCain and Cardin introduced a similar bill that was reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
This amendment strikes an important balance: it imposes targeted sanctions against military and security forces responsible for horrific ethnic cleansing in Burma, while still supporting the civilian government’s efforts to improve transparency in key economic sectors.
This language passed the House as a floor amendment, which received 382 votes, and enjoys the endorsements of a broad array of U.S. and international human rights groups, Burmese diaspora groups, and religious groups. Earlier this week, you likely received a letter of support written by 46 of these groups.
Retaining this portion of Title 12 in the final NDAA bill is the right thing to do for the people of Burma and for American leadership. It sends the signal to any government or security force around the world that there will be consequences for gross human rights abuses such as ethnic cleansing.
Next, I want to express my strong support Section 1255 of the Senate-passed NDAA, which deals with North Korea.
Again and again, North Korea has demonstrated mastery at drawing out negotiations, gaining concessions, and walking back from their commitments. We still haven’t seen actual evidence that North Korea intends to denuclearize. If they are genuine in their interest in a different future for their country, the first thing they should do is to declare their nuclear weapons stockpiles as a starting point for any further talks.
This provision would encourage them to do just that, and it would provide Congress critical visibility over any progress in reducing those stockpiles. We are all interested in seeing a diplomatic solution to the challenge of North Korea. Section 1255 of the Senate passed NDAA is an important step in that direction. I urge you to support this vital measure.
I’ll turn now to quickly discuss House section 1299F on Pentagon operations in Niger. I joined with Ranking Member Smith and others to cosponsor this amendment. The Foreign Affairs Committee has a particular responsibility for ensuring that the lines between combat and non-combat authorities are not blurred in ways that obscure the nature and scope of our counterterrorism activities. This amendment is part of an effort to conduct basic oversight over how those authorities are used and to ensure that changes are made in response to the lessons we have learned from the tragic events in Niger last year.
Finally, I would like to raise concerns about provisions in this year’s NDAA that expand or continue Department of Defense responsibilities for humanitarian assistance and stabilization operations. I fully support the intentions behind these programs…but we need to apply lessons we have learned over the past decade and a half of war. We should act on the recommendations in the Stabilization Assistance Review—conducted jointly by DoD, State, and USAID. It found that these foreign assistance programs would work better if State and USAID have a bigger role. I hope to see changes to this year’s NDAA that reflect those findings.
Lastly, I want to address Yemen. The situation there is a humanitarian disaster, and we must ensure that the United States continues to employ leverage to end the violence, ease the suffering and move toward a political solution that will enhance stability and security.
The Shaheen-Young amendment to the Senate NDAA goes a long way to ensure that our Gulf allies are working toward a political solution. I would urge this conference to include Gulf partners other than Saudi Arabia—such as the United Arab Emirates and the internationally recognized Government of Yemen—in the certification requirement. These parties should be held to the same standard and understand our expectations.
Let me be clear: to me, this amendment is not meant to take away from the destabilizing effects of Houthi aggression or the role that Iran is playing in Yemen. Launching ballistic missiles, kidnapping aid workers—these acts are unacceptable and morally reprehensible. The Houthis must come to the negotiating table. But, we all must play a part in getting to a political solution, and I support this language in the Senate bill.
Thank you all for the time, and for considering these foreign affairs priorities for this year’s NDAA.
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