Monday, June 25, 2007

Ms. Powell, US Ambassador to Nepal at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing

Powell-Kerry Exchange on Nepal
NANCY J. POWELL, the US ambassador designate to Kathmandu, tackles questions about Nepal at a Capitol Hill hearing.


Ms. Powell, the nominee for US ambassador to Nepal, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, offers her views on political transition in Nepal, the Terai unrest, the Bhutanees refugees problem, and American assistance.

The following are the edited excerpts of a transcript of the June 20, 2007 hearing at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the pending nomination of Nancy Powell to be ambassador to Nepal. The Hearing was chaired by the Democratic Senator John F. Kerry and took place in Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

The joint hearing also included nominees Anne Woods Patterson (for Pakistan), Joseph Adam Ereli (Bahrain), Richard Boyce Norland (Uzbekistan), and Stephen A. Seche (Yemen).

SEN. KERRY: Thank you. We'll come to order. I apologize to everybody for being a little late. We're in the middle of negotiations on the energy bill, on that wonderful subject of CAFE standards, which we've been fighting about for as long as I've been here. So we're trying to see if we can get something cooking, and I apologize for that.

Thank you all for being here. This hearing is to examine the nominations for ambassador of a number of career foreign service officers. The Honorable Anne Woods Patterson to be ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Honorable Nancy Powell to be ambassador to Nepal; Mr. Joseph Adam Ereli to be ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain; Mr. Richard Boyce Norland to be ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan; and Mr. Stephen A. Seche to be ambassador to the Republic of Yemen. And I might add, having sat on these hearings for a long time now, it is really both refreshing and enormously reassuring to see so much experience at a table at one time, and so many people whose long careers have really, I think, prepared them all so effectively for these challenging missions. And there isn't one mission here that isn't challenging, one way or the other.

And we thank your families also. We -- I certainly personally understand the commitment and sacrifices involved in your service, and we're very, very grateful to all of you for that, particularly those of you going to a place -- well, almost everywhere nowadays has become more complicated and stressful that it ever used to be, and it takes a real toll in a lot of different ways. So we welcome all of you here, and we welcome those of you who have family members who've come to share this hearing with you.

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After nearly a decade of civil war, many years of autocratic rule, a place that most people have always thought of as rather peaceful, Nepal finds itself at a critical point in its history. The United States and the international community need to help Nepal to restore and solidify their democracy, and key to this is moving forward with the process of integrating the Maoist opposition into the political process. Nepal faces a tough road ahead, and we obviously need to give them the support they need to succeed. And our ambassador's relationship and leverage in that process will be critical.
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So it's clear that each of you, as ambassadors, are going to be facing some very immediate, complicated, and important challenges. And I know the members of this committee will be interested in how you're going to approach them, but also in the progress as we go along over the next year-and-a-half or more.

So we're slightly under the gun here, but I don't think this is going to be a prolonged hearing, the reason being we have a meeting on Iraq at about 4:00, a little bit after 4:00. So I -- I suspect that it will not push us up against the wall, but I just wanted to sound that note of alarm.

So this is the picture. It's an interesting group of places. This is actually enormously challenging, when you put it all together, and it's not -- it's not separate, either.

It's all connected and interconnected, which makes it all the much more fascinating in terms of our larger interests and goals. So thank you for being here. Why don't we get into your testimony? I'd ask -- (off mike) -- no -- okay. If I could ask you each to sort of summarize and each of your testimonies will be placed in the record in full, and then we can sort of have a dialogue which I think would be helpful.

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MS. POWELL: As the president's nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Nepal, I thank both President Bush and Secretary Rice for their confidence. If confirmed, I will have the privilege of returning to a region that has been the focus of much of my career, and to an embassy where I spent my second tour in the Foreign Service. However, much has changed since that time. Nepal is at a critical juncture in its history. Its government and people are simultaneously working to end a devastating decade-long Maoist insurgency and to establish sustained multiparty democracy. They are also struggling to emerge from poverty and to address the issues of discrimination and inequality that have long plagued Nepal.

Peace and democracy in Nepal would directly serve U.S. interests in stability and democracy in South Asia. The Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists who together comprise the interim government have agreed to a political roadmap that, if fully implemented, has the potential to deliver peace and democracy to Nepal. There has been much progress to date but success is far from assured. Although the Maoists joined the government on April 1st, they continue to violate commitments they have made in the course of the peace process. Unrest in the lowlands along the Indian border has further complicated efforts to restore law and order and the authority of the government throughout the country. The security vacuum and the political stalemate precluded free and fair constituent assembly elections from being held this month as originally planned. They are now expected in November or early December. In order to assure these -- (inaudible) -- are free and fair when they do take place, the government must urgently restore law and order throughout the country, complete the legislative and logistical groundwork for a well-administered election, and reach out to disaffected groups to ensure their adequate representation and peaceful participation in the political process. If confirmed, I will continue our active support of Nepali efforts to these ends.

Although democracy and stability are among our strongest interests in Nepal, they are far from the only ones. Nepal's magnificent art and architecture as well as its scenery continue to make it a favorite destination of American travelers, and the provision of services to American citizens is a responsibility that comes ahead of all others. Also, achieving durable solutions for the 108,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal continues to be a U.S. priority. If confirmed, I look forward to working with the government of Nepal to implement current plans for a voluntary resettlement program that would accommodate at least 60,000 of these refugees. I will also encourage the government of Nepal to ensure that the rights of all Tibetan refugees, resident in or transiting Nepal, are respected.

There remains room for improvement in Nepal's efforts to prevent and prosecute human trafficking, and to ensure its security forces uphold the highest human rights standards. If confirmed, I look forward to working with the government on these issues as well. Foreign assistance is and will continue to be the most useful tool at our disposal to influence developments in Nepal along the full spectrum of our national interests there. From technical support intended to strengthen Nepal's nascent democratic institutions to health programs that improve the daily lives of many Nepalese, as well as humanitarian assistance for refugees and conflict victims and training for Nepal's military that is focused on improving its human rights record, and working under civilian authority, our aid provides a critical programmatic complement to our diplomacy. I take seriously the responsibility to ensure that American taxpayers receive high returns on their investment in Nepal.

If confirmed, I look forward to consulting closely with you, Mr. Chairman, all members of the committee and your staff throughout my tenure in Nepal. I appreciate the opportunity to speak before the committee today. Thank you.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much. We appreciate it.


SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much… I neglected to say, does any other ambassador-designate have family here you want to introduce, or you –

MS. POWELL: Mr. Chairman, I don't have my immediate family with me today, but I do have members of my Foreign Service family, and I appreciate their support.

SEN. KERRY: Well, that's wonderful. Will they raise their hands? Where are they all? (Laughter.)
Well, thank you, all of you, and thank you all for your service.

You know, I couldn't help but, when you listed those eight countries -- and I was looking through all your curriculas -- it's just astonishing the span of experience that's sitting here, the numbers of places you all have served -- you know, from the Caribbean, to Latin America, to Canada, Saudi Arabia, Africa. I mean, it's really quite staggering. It's a great deal of experience and I hope it's going to be really well put to use.

I know that some people in the Foreign Service can sometimes get a little bit frustrated at the bureaucracy and at, sometimes, the unwillingness of Washington to listen. And I'm going to -- you know, I believe these hearings ought to be more than just sort of pro forma kind of -- we're going to ask some of the questions we need to about your countries. But I want to draw on a little bit of that experience, if I can, and ask you just to be candid. And we'll all - you know, if you say anything too "out there," we'll make sure the secretary doesn't hear about it – (laughter) -- and you know, we'll still follow through and get this done procedurally. But I really do want to draw on you because you've been -- you know the street, you know what's happening out there.

And sometimes I think that the experience that's on the ground in some of these countries just gets wasted. And when I go out and visit, as some of my colleagues on the committee do, and we sit in the embassies and you listen, it's a great education and you learn so much more than here. And I think a lot of that experience, sometimes it doesn't make it all the way to where it ought to and get listened to enough.

So, having said that, let me -- let me proceed to ask a few specific questions. And then I want to turn to my colleague and share this, and then I'll come back and perhaps ask some of these others.

But just to let you reflect on it a little bit, I really want to talk - I want to get you beyond your countries. I want you to share - and it bears on your countries, but I want you to think about -- I want you to share with the committee, for the record, you know, we've got - we're really tangled up in Iraq and we're tangled up in the Middle East, and Hamas is stronger, and Hezbollah is stronger, and Iran is flexing its muscles, and you know, we're sort of on the short end of more than we've ever been before or want to be, and our leverage and credibility are at risk and stake.

And you know, I meet a lot of students nowadays who are traveling abroad and they tell me they tell people they're Canadian, not American. I see some heads nodding out there. It just -- I mean, it burns you up and it hurts, but it's a reality that people face. People tell me they'd flash their American passport, but they get it back and their pocket as fast as they can because they don't want to be identified and so forth. And for businesspeople, it's got a cost nowadays.

I want you to share with this committee -- because you've spent a lot of time as junior officers. You've got friends in these countries; you hear what people are thinking and saying. I want you to share with the committee, ultimately we'll come back to it, some of the things you think we ought to be doing to restore that confidence, and to rebuild our credibility, and to address some of these burning issues that are feeding insurgencies and feeding terrorism and allowing extreme, radical religious zealots to somehow isolate us in a world where we should be isolating them. And I think it's a very, very significant question for all of us to think about. And if we don't draw on your experience, shame on us; we're missing something important here.

So that said, let me just turn to a few of these countries and get your views a little bit on that.

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SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much… Let me just ask Ambassador Powell, if I can, in your judgment, does the interim government have enough legitimacy and lift to be able to pull off the assembly elections?
MS. POWELL: They appear to be working very hard at making the necessary steps. They've taken a very important one this week in getting new legislation in that will -- that determined the kind of elections they will have, a mix of both first-past-the-post and proportionate. They have one more piece of legislation they need to pass. They are certainly going to have to do much more on the law- and-order front in order to ensure that people aren't intimidated, that the campaigns can go forward in a reasonable manner.

SEN. KERRY: Assuming they did the law-and-order front, is it your judgment that the outcome -- and there's, I assume, going to be some kind of international observation for the legitimacy; let's say they've sort of -- it's signed off on. Do you think that internally, within the country, there'll be an acceptance of an outcome?
MS. POWELL: I think that's one of the major questions, particularly with the Maoist Party. They have committed themselves to the parliamentary system, to the --

SEN. KERRY: How committed do you judge they really are?

MS. POWELL: I think we will have a chance to see that. They have not shown 100 percent commitment, particularly with the founding of the Young Communist League. Intimidation, extortion, some of the kidnapping has been continuing. This has been recognized both in the -- by the U.S. government representatives, by my predecessor, and also by the prime minister, by other political leaders.

SEN. KERRY: So it's your judgment, or the State Department's conclusion, that the likelihood is they may engage in coercive activities during the election?

MS. POWELL: That certainly is one of the things that their pattern has shown so far. I believe that the international community, and certainly the Nepali government is going to have to watch this and take steps to stop it.

SEN. KERRY: What impact do you believe the street demonstrations would have on the election process?

MS. POWELL: They've had a number of impacts already, certainly a very devastating impact on the economy. They lost a number of work days. They do intimidate those who are opposed to -- to the Maoist philosophy, and this has served to form the debate in certain ways that have not been truly democratic.

SEN. KERRY: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledgement.) Do you know, can you comment on what the status of their weapons are at this point?

MS. POWELL: They turned in approximately 3,000 weapons to the U.N. They are under lock and key in the camps. They are monitored by the U.N. It is not clear that that is the entire cache, but that has been –

SEN. KERRY: Is there any judgment at all about sort of relative quantity?

MS. POWELL: I don't believe so. It was also matched by a similar quantity from the army being restored. My experience in South Asia is that even if they had locked up all of those in their possession, it isn't that difficult to get new ones in the region.

SEN. KERRY: Therefore, what judgment, if any, is made about what they might resort to in the event they don't like the outcome of the election?

MS. POWELL: I think there are two things that we will need to watch for. One of them is making sure that the elections are as free and fair as they can be so that there is no reason for groups, whether it's the Maoists or others, to reject the results. The international community is trying to work in a coordinated manner with the government of Nepal to provide expertise, to provide assistance in the logistics and in the legal framework for those elections.

There are a number of international bodies, including American ones, that have already committed to providing international observers, training Nepali observers to be in the more remote parts of the country so that it can be documented on the conduct of the election, on the conduct of the various parties. I think all of those will go a long way of strengthening the security forces so that they can deal with occasions of violence on election day, ensure that there is not an outbreak of violence after the election.

SEN. KERRY: What's the anticipated date on the Constituent Assembly election?

MS. POWELL: They are talking about a Nepali month in the fall between mid-November and mid-December.

SEN. KERRY: Mm-hmm. (Affirmative.) Is there a role that the United States and the international community can play that we aren't playing? Is there anything we should be doing, in your judgment?

MS. POWELL: I think we need to continue to work with the United Nations to make sure that the cantonments in which the Maoist fighters have been put are adequately staffed and taken care of. We need to look at what we can do to make sure that the people who are in those camps receive some kind of training that will allow them to rejoin society after having been part of a group that has not encouraged support for democratic ideals. I think those are key areas; also those are very, very important and practical aspects of the elections. They are going to need money, they are going to need logistics. Nepal is not an easy country to move around in, and to get the ballots out, to get the security forces out to the various regions will take a lot of funding and a lot of work on the logistics.

SEN. KERRY: Is there a current plan for that?

MS. POWELL: I believe the U.N. is working hard on it. We certainly have advisers working with the election commission from IFES and others that the USAID has contracted to support the Nepali efforts.

If confirmed, one of my first tasks will be to look at our own plans and to see, both for the elections and then what happens the day after the elections. Are we prepared to be able to support the constituent assembly that is elected, and how can they best do that?

SEN. KERRY: Is there a compromise of some kind that you believe can be attained at the ballot box that would sufficiently vest the Maoists so they don't resort to an arms struggle? I mean, is there some frame of that that you have that you would articulate? Or do you think this has to be simply worked through and see what the outcome is?

MS. POWELL: I think this one is going to take, first of all, a free and fair election, where people have confidence that they have voted for those that they want. There is a certain amount of support for the Maoists, and that also needs to be respected in an election. They have committed to this, although there are divisions, we believe, within the Maoists. We need to encourage those that are committed to this, the democratic process, and to make sure that all forums, including the courts system -- that there are ways to encourage the ethnic groups and the others who feel disadvantaged, that they have a role. Right now most of the violence is from those groups rather than from the Maoist group.

SEN. KERRY: What role do you believe India has in this?

MS. POWELL: They have a very important role to play. There are a large number of Nepali citizens who live and work in India. The border is relatively open.

This has provided a free flow of ideas and goods. It's also permitted smuggling and other illegal activities to take place. They have enormous amounts of influence with the various political groups, including the Maoists, over the years, and so they will continue to play a very important role.

SEN. KERRY: Do you believe that China has any ability to help?

MS. POWELL: I do. They have, again, a long border with Nepal. They have rejected the idea that these are people that are somehow tied to their former leader and have spoken out in favor of the current peace process. And I would hope that they would be engaged in promoting that.

SEN. KERRY: I assume that this will be task number one for you the minute you set foot there, that you're going to focus on what we can do to be supportive without being viewed as interfering or managing it.

MS. POWELL: It is. At the same time, I think our assistance and our support has been focused on both the short term with a very, very heavy focus on the peace process and the elections, but also on our assistance for ensuring that the government can deliver services. We have concentrated over the years, particularly on education and health, with the current focus on health, and that very much needs to continue. The average Nepali has a -- is struck by poverty with a lack of opportunity for education, and we need to assist the government to address those needs.

SEN. KERRY: Is there any other challenge that the committee ought to be thinking about that'd be helpful to you?

MS. POWELL: The Nepalese, in particular, need to continue to look at trafficking. We have had a very, very positive response, I believe, on the offer to resettlement some of the Bhutanese refugees, who have been in camps for 17 years, as a humanitarian gesture. We're going to continue to have to look at how to do that. It is not easy to implement, but we will continue to work on those issues as well.

SEN. KERRY: Well, we wish you well in that.

What about the strife in Terai?

MS. POWELL: I think the security forces have not been deployed in a manner to assist the government in ensuring that there is law and order. There are a number of groups who have taken the position that the way to get the government's attention is to take to the street, to commit violent acts, and this needs to be addressed in a way that they can have their grievances heard. There is a roundtable planned with the new minister for reconstruction, and there will be -- I think this is something that we need to encourage, that they address these needs, these grievances more energetically and more quickly so that they don't feel the need to go to the streets.

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SEN. KERRY: Anybody else want to -- yes, Ambassador Powell.
MS. POWELL: I would add to that it needs to work both ways. We need to be welcoming also of our foreign friends and find ways to process their visits to the United States, particularly, I hope, for education. I think the universities and the schools in America have been a tremendous area for improving the understanding of America, for having people understand that, and I would hope that we can continue to do that while at the same time we protect our borders and make them secure.

I'm facing a situation in which the Peace Corps has had to terminate its program in Nepal. I truly believe the Peace Corps has had a tremendous influence around the world, and would encourage additional programs like that, where possible.

SEN. KERRY: ….., you get a "bye" because I've just been given a message I've got an emergency meeting here on CAFE that I've got to get to right away.

But I need to ask each and every one of you, is there any reason -- is there anything that would act as a potential conflict of interest in the performance of your responsibilities as an ambassador that we should be aware of?
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SEN. KERRY: Ambassador Powell?
MS. POWELL: No, sir.

SEN. KERRY: And is there any holding asset or interest that any of you have that would potentially pose a conflict of interest in the performance of your responsibilities?

MS. POWELL: No, Mr. Chairman.


SEN. KERRY: Great.
Well again, let me repeat what I said at the outset. A tremendous amount of experience. You are -- all of you (are) superbly qualified to go out there and undertake these responsibilities.

We're going to try -- I'm going to leave the record open until Monday only because I want to move, if we can, Wednesday or Thursday to a business meeting, which should allow us to have a vote on the floor of the Senate either Thursday night or Friday to get you all out there which we need to do, particularly before we break on -- for the 4th of July recess.

So you can all take the "if I am confirmed" out of your repertoire and get ready to be confirmed and go to work. We appreciate again -- look forward to seeing some of you anyway. I'm not sure I'll get everywhere that you are, but I look forward to getting out there some time.

Good luck. God bless. Thank you.

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