US to review relations with Nigeria

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Indications emerged on Wednesday that the United States Government had begun considering a drastic review of diplomatic relations with Nigeria, following concerns about President Muhammadu Buhari’s assault on free speech and constitutional rights.

Top on the list is a likely change in aid and development assistance to Nigeria, as a means of forcing the Buhari administration to relax its grip on constitutional rights.

The overhaul of bilateral relations with Nigeria was a major point of discussions between the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday in Washington DC.

Blinken met with the full committee to review the Fiscal Year 2022 State Department Budget Request.

In his address of welcome, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, expressed the pressing need to review the world’s only superpower’s relations and engagements with some countries.

He stated that “Nigeria requires a fundamental rethink of the framework of our overall engagement.”

The full text below:

“Mr. Secretary, Welcome. I am pleased to see you before the Committee again. It’s nice to see the Secretary engage on a regular basis, and we appreciate that. Even though we may not always agree on everything, I appreciate you proactively making yourself available to discuss the budget. It sends an important signal about the value of transparency and our two branches of government working together on behalf of the American people.

I am also pleased to note that, after four years in which this Committee, on a bipartisan basis, greeted the foreign affairs budget proposals with various tones of incredulity, today we have a serious budget proposal, that, if enacted, would represent the largest increase to the regular international affairs budget in more than a decade. That is not to say that we will see eye-to-eye all the specific components – to be sure – and we’re looking forward to a robust and substantive discussion.

After a year during which the international community has been shaken to its core by the COVID pandemic, it should be clear to everyone that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in both public health and in international affairs, and especially where the two intersect.

I was pleased to see the Administration’s recent announcement that we will be leading on the world stage by providing vaccines to countries desperately in need – although I believe we should prioritize countries who embrace fundamental democratic freedoms and rights.

For the international community to work for Americans, for fundamental universal values of human rights, democracy, and equitable prosperity, the United States must invest in and lead international institutions and stand up for international law. We must invest in smart economic development and free and fair trade. We must invest in meeting the challenges of climate change. And we must invest in our diplomacy and development professionals. For when we do not, we find that others, with different interests and values, have the space to act in ways that threaten to upend the global order and undermine our interests.

The Administration’s proposal to significantly increase the budget for State and USAID and other international programs reflects the investments we need to be successful in furthering our nation’s interests and values. And I want to commend you for seeking to rebalance the budget away from Overseas Contingency Operations and restore ‘base’ funding.

Today’s hearing isn’t just about numbers – it is about how we invest those numbers. So let me take a few minutes to highlight a few issues and areas of concern:

Broadly in the Middle East, we need to rebalance a heavily military and arms sales-oriented policy to one that focuses more on strategic diplomatic and development investments. And while not directly related to the budget, we would certainly want to hear about the Administration’s efforts to reach a comprehensive diplomatic agreement with Iran that goes far beyond the JCPOA.

What is the definition of ‘stronger’?

In Europe, many of us were disappointed by the Administration’s decision to waive sanctions on NordStream2. As I know that when you leave us today you are heading to Europe, I look forward to hearing your perspective about how the U.S. can work to assure Ukraine of our commitment to its security, and critically, in advance of President Biden’s meeting with Putin, I hope the Administration sends a very strong message to Moscow.

Putin only understands strength.

On Afghanistan, the security situation is increasingly dire and we have to start thinking about our contingency planning. The Committee needs to hear beyond vague promises of commitment to the Afghan people what we are going to do.

In Africa, the Administration faces a raft of diplomatic challenges. China and Russia continue to act in ways inimical to our interests and those of the majority of the people in Africa. Tensions between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa. Al-Shabaab poses a continuing threat, while in Mozambique another robust terrorist threat has emerged. Coups in Mali and Chad have undermined international counterterrorism and development efforts, and Nigeria requires a fundamental rethink of the framework of our overall engagement.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating social and political pressures with serious implications for regional stability. We are also seeing a fraying of democratic consensus with deeply flawed elections and far too common attacks on the separation of powers, with the potential results of democratic decay all too apparent in the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela or the irregular migration streaming from Central America.

I also look forward to hearing what we are doing to get to the bottom of apparent attacks on U.S. personnel and family members that have left many with ongoing and debilitating injuries, and the steps that State is taking to ensure our personnel are protected.

Beyond the immediate health impacts of the COVID pandemic, I also look forward to hearing from you how the United States will address secondary impacts of the pandemic, given that 36 countries, and 130 million people – could now experience famine this year.

I am also eager to understand how the Administration plans to address the needs of the 235 million people worldwide that require humanitarian assistance and protection – a near 40 percent increase over 2020. Across the globe, authoritarian regimes and non-state actors have impeded humanitarian access to devastating effect, and how the Administration intends to address the horrific trend of sexual and gender-based violence – in Tigray, Ethiopia, Burma, Xinjiang and elsewhere – where governments use sexual violence as a weapon of war against religious and ethnic minorities.

Finally, as the Senate continues with consideration of its China package, including the Strategic Competition Act this Committee voted out on a bipartisan basis, I am interested in your views on how to resource and posture ourselves in the Indo-Pacific, and successfully compete with China across all dimensions of power.

It’s a long list of concerns, Mr. Secretary, you well know that. It’s hardly comprehensive even. But that is the world we have – the challenges that we face as a nation.

So we look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas for how we meet this signal moment in our country and our planet’s history and the role you envision for the Department of State in helping our nation to do so.

With that, the distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Risch.”

 

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