Iraq Ambassador Nominee Meets Senate Committee
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 27, 2004 The nominee for U.S. ambassador to Iraq today singled out the challenge facing the United States in Iraq: Establish the conditions by which the Iraqi people can pursue their interests and celebrate their differences through legitimate political channels, rather than through violence and retribution.
John D. Negroponte, nominated by President Bush on April 19, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing. He has been the U.S. representative to the United Nations since September 2001.
The Coalition Provisional Authority will dissolve June 30 when sovereignty transfers to the Iraqi people. CPA administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III will return to the United States, and an American Embassy will represent U.S. interests in Iraq.
"The sober reality is that destructive and divisive forces are working to undermine progress in Iraq," he said. "Coalition forces and Iraqi and international civilians are targeted by disparate elements fanatically opposed to a democratic Iraq. These elements are exploiting and seeking to deepen divisions among Iraq's ethnic, religious and tribal communities, exacerbated by many years of manipulation by Saddam's despotic regime, in order to destabilize Iraq."
Negroponte said Saddam Hussein's regime created the conditions that pose the challenge ahead, and the path to follow is clear. "In short," he told the committee, "we must support Iraqis as they build the institutions necessary to do away with Saddam's criminal political system and the winner-take-all attitude that has ruled Iraq for decades."
He said a prosperous, stable and democratic Iraq is central to U.S. interests and to the success in the global campaign against terror. Ending Saddam's regime, he said, was the first step.
"With the overthrow of Saddam Hussein we eliminated a major threat to international peace and security," he said. "In the last two decades he invaded his neighbors twice, used (weapons of mass destruction) against his neighbors and his own people, undertook clandestine nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, and massacred hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens."
Ensuring the new Iraq will be a constructive presence in the region, and that its government will be at peace with its neighbors and with its own citizens, has been the goal of the past year's efforts, Negroponte said. "When confronted with complex and dangerous challenges as we push toward that strategic goal," he noted, "we must recall that our extraordinary efforts in Iraq are not only for the Iraqi people -- but also for our own."
The post-June 30 U.S. diplomatic mission in Iraq, Negroponte said, would work in partnership with the Iraqi people and would "support democratization and rule of law, promote economic development and support efforts to restore security and eliminate terrorism."
Negroponte pledged full support of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Iraq for all aspects of election preparation, calling that support "critical" if elections for a transitional national assembly are to take place as scheduled by the end of January 2005.
"In this regard," he said, "the expertise of the United Nations will be particularly valuable. It is already helping the Iraqis and the Coalition Provisional Authority establish an independent electoral commission, an electoral law and a political parties law. If confirmed, I will work with the Iraqis to facilitate the United Nations' active engagement as Iraq prepares voter rolls, trains election workers, designates polling stations and distributes ballots."
Rebuilding Iraq, Negroponte said, also will be an important priority for the diplomatic mission he would lead as ambassador. "The United States is providing unprecedented funding and technical assistance to help Iraq achieve a level of prosperity commensurate with its natural and human resources and proud history," he told the committee. "Working with the Iraqi authorities, who best know the needs of their people, the mission will oversee the vast array of reconstruction projects under way in Iraq. We will ensure that these projects, financed with taxpayers' funds, serve our policy goals and the priority needs validated by the Iraqis themselves, and we will hold these projects to the highest standards of financial accountability."
With Iraqi security forces not yet fully developed, Negroponte said he realizes that the training mission is currently a military one. "The key to achieving lasting security in Iraq is building and strengthening the capacity of Iraq's security services to deal with both domestic extremists and foreign terrorists," he said. "I can think of no more important task.
"We must do everything within our power to help the government and courageous people of Iraq develop the capacity to defend themselves and maintain the kind of peace and tranquility that will permit their nation to go about its legitimate civilian pursuits," he continued. "While the theater commander will implement these training responsibilities at this time, I can assure him of my full and complete support."
A "robust" multinational military presence will be critical for security until Iraqi security services are capable of handling that mission themselves, Negroponte said. "I will work hard in my current capacity (as U.S. representative to the United Nations) to obtain continued Security Council authorization for such a force."
Negroponte praised U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's work in helping Iraq form an interim government, noting that he has worked with Brahimi for more than two years on the post-conflict situation in Afghanistan. "I have a great deal of respect for his ability to engage disparate, even warring, groups and move them toward productive dialogue, consensus and the establishment of viable political institutions," Negroponte said. "We will remain engaged with Ambassador Brahimi in the critical weeks ahead."
An expanded U.N. role in the political arena would help to generate the international support that the successful rehabilitation of Iraq requires, he said. "Secretary-General (Kofi) Annan's and Ambassador Brahimi's contributions may well open the door to creative thinking about ways in which the international community, as well as the coalition, can further contribute to the process of rehabilitating Iraq, both politically and economically." But Negroponte stressed that more international involvement doesn't mean the United States will lose out.
"I want to be clear that a vital United Nations role does not come at the expense of the United States' influence or interests," he said. "Our efforts can be well coordinated and complementary. There is ample evidence across a broad range of situations that a strong partnership with the international community, including the United Nations organization, is in our strategic interest."
He noted that his role as U.S. ambassador to Iraq will differ from Bremer's role as CPA administrator. "Whereas the CPA is the ultimate political authority in Iraq, the embassy will be in a supportive, as opposed to a commanding role. Also, the mission will be distinctly American, in contrast to the multinational character of the CPA."
He pledged, however, to maintain close relationships with coalition partners, multilateral organizations, and nongovernmental organizations operating in Iraq, groups he said "are all vital to the advancement of our common interests."
The nominee praised the Bremer's work. "I have the greatest respect and admiration for Ambassador Bremer's accomplishments in Iraq under the most difficult circumstances," Negroponte said. "He is a personal friend as well as a colleague, and I value highly his historic contribution to our efforts in Iraq."
Negroponte commended the Americans who have served in Iraq and the work they have done. "The courage shown by all Americans working on the ground in Iraq, in dangerous and uncertain conditions, to support the principles we and our coalition partners share with Iraqis, is humbling," he said. "The men and women of our armed forces, of our diplomatic service and from all walks of American life who have come forward to serve our nation in Iraq have made great and too often the ultimate sacrifices. We owe it to them to proceed with the utmost in forethought, resolve and prudence as we enter the next phase."
Before taking his U.N. posting, Negroponte had spent four years as a senior executive for The McGraw-Hill Companies after a 37-year career as a diplomat. He served at eight different foreign service posts in Asia, Europe and Latin America, and he also held important positions at the State Department and the White House.