WASHINGTON, April 18, 2013 Boston, Benghazi and Pakistan took center stage Wednesday as Secretary of State John Kerry defended President Barack Obama’s proposed foreign-affairs budget for the next fiscal year.
In his first appearance before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs since being appointed Secretary of State in January, Kerry confronted domestic and international terrorism.
Remarks from Kerry reflected an undeniable emotional impact from Monday’s explosions in Boston.
“It is impossible for me to express my anger and sadness,” Kerry said, calling the attacks a “bloody mayhem.”
“Boston is not going to be intimidated by this,” he said.
Kerry paid homage to those injured and killed in recent attacks aimed at American citizens, choking back tears as he made mention of those hurt on Monday’s marathon bombings, and the Foreign Service Officer who was killed this month in Afghanistan, Anne Smedinghoff.
“As President Obama said on Monday, we will not rest until we have gotten to the bottom of these bombings and the perpetuators have been brought to justice,” his testimony read.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif, hesitantly asked Kerry whether or not a parallel could be made between the recent attack and “other international terrorist incidents.”
Kerry called the question inappropriate.
“I’m not going to speculate,” the former Massachusetts senator said. “Terror is terror. Whether homegrown or foreign, we just don’t know that,” he said.
Clinton under fire
Kerry also faced heated questions from several committee members -- including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. -- about Benghazi.
Rohrabacher told Kerry that he blamed his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, and her department’s policies for the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens. He accused her of “covering-up” what really happened during the attack.
“I don’t believe Clinton was cooperative with this committee about Benghazi,” Rohrabacher told Kerry.
In response, Kerry defended transparency of the investigations that followed, citing multiple testimonies and 20 briefings on the part of the Obama administration as evidence.
But Kerry said he was open to working with committee members on locating any missing documents and filling in the gaps in the story behind the attack.
“No family in America wants justice more than the State Department family, trust me,” Kerry said.
Pakistan: Friends or foes?
Rohrabacher also questioned Kerry about Pakistan’s relationship with “terrorist” friends, accusing Pakistan of harboring close relationships with terrorist insurgents.
“They [Pakistan] are terrorists’ friends,” Rohrabacher told him. “Shame on us, not you, Mr. Secretary. But shame on us.”
Kerry countered, saying cutting off Pakistan would not be a good move. He cited the 50,000 Pakistanis who have lost their lives since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Kerry also faced questions about Iran, Syria and North Korea – but his response was in line with the Obama administration’s stance on denuclearization.
“No option is off the table,” Kerry said. “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.”
Kerry also faced questions on the State Department budget – which cuts overall spending by 4 percent, because of a reduced presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. As part of the budget, the department is requesting $580 million for the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund, which he says will provide reformers the tools and resources they need to build their countries.
“Let me be clear: Development is not charity,” Kerry said. “It’s an investment in a strong America and a free world. We can’t afford to pull back.”
The budget also sets aside $8.6 billion for security, counterterrorism and law-enforcement assistance.
“Compare that $8.6 billion to the more than $1 trillion we have spent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Kerry said. “I think you’ll agree this is both a penny and a pound-wise investment.”
While not debating the budget request, the committee members made frequent mention of the lack of an Inspector General to oversee the department’s activities.
“It is inexcusable that the State Department has been operating four plus years without a presidentially nominated, Senate-confirmed Inspector General,” said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif.
Kerry said, “We’re gonna get that done, I know it.”