Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Report: Senate Questions Trump's Sec'y State Pick; Hearing Topics Range from Cuba to North Korea to ISIS to Mexico to Palestine.

Aired January 11, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] MARCO RUBIO, SENATOR, FLORIDA: I just wanted to follow-up on a discussion Senator Flake had with you in the first round urging you to look at the successes of our policy change in Cuba. And this is mainly because you as a CEO at Exxon I suspect you had a low tolerance for old ideas that had failed to produce positive results. Regardless of what one thinks about the Cuban government, no one can argue that the policy of embargo and isolation has achieved any progress, the proof is right in front of us, the Castro regime endures, and I'm for the engagement and you mentioned doing a bottoms- up review, and thinking about that, I'm going to point out these things have happened and are very positive.

We've worked with the Cubans to combat Zika and diabetes, and access to the internet have paid off with new wi-fi hot spots in Havana and improved access to the island including roaming deals to U.S. carriers, increase bilateral activities by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and last week Cuba signed a bilateral agreement to prepare for and respond to oil spills and hazardous substance pollutions in the Gulf of Mexico and the straits of Florida. Our new policy according towards Cuba according to a 2015 Pew research poll shows 72 percent of Americans support renewed diplomatic relations and 73 percent support ending the embargo. I doubt where there are many issues where there is such a vast majority of the American people agree and I hope we will not be letting the Americans down by returning to a period where such efforts are made impossible by a failed policy that showed no results, instead I hope you will continue to work to support the Cuban small business owner. Almost 500,000 licensed businesses and growing and to continue the engagement which has led to increased opportunities for both Cuban and American businesses in Cuba. Will you recommend to President-elect Trump a policy engagement with Cuba in order to foster a change need on the island or do you prefer to go back to the old past 50 years to undermine the Castro regime?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Senator, if confirmed, the job of the diplomat is to engage and so engagement is always preferred and our door is always open. But we must be honest with ourselves, there is long standing statutes in place that govern that relationship. The Helms-Burton amendment. The designated list of state sponsors of terrorism and specific criteria around whether we and organizations and those conducting affairs in Cuba are in compliance with those, the statutory requirements and if we are able to engage in a positive way and comply with all of the statutes, that's a good thing. I don't know because I've not had the opportunity to have a fulsome examination, obviously, someone had to make a determination that something changed. Did it in fact change? I would like to see all the documentation.

The information around that, otherwise if we're going to change the relationship, we got to change those statutes as well. So again, kind of this common theme, maybe you're hearing from me we live up to the agreements and the laws, and fully enforce them, they were put there for a reason, if we need to change them, and the posture on them as that will happen as well, but because of the recent past here much by executive order and I think the President-elect has indicated held like to understand that, what was the criteria that the state department used to make that determination. That's what he's going to be asking me.

RUBIO The reason I cited those polls is that the American people are at the point of wanting the statutes to be set aside. I don't want to argue with you but I very much appreciate your answers in terms of consulting state department people and you know I can't think of better professionals than these state department professionals that spend decades learning about the regions that they serve in, the specific countries they work on and I appreciate your thoughtfulness in terms of doing that. And just a final question here Senator Menendez mentioned the whole issue of fugitives, we also have a fugitive by the name of Charlie Hill who I believe should be brought to justice and I really believe we have a better chance at getting him out or already having discussions if we engage with them rather than going back to a policy of isolation, so with that, thank you very much.

BOB CORKER, SENATOR, TENNESSEE: Thank you, sir. Senator Flake.

JEFF FLAKE, SENATOR, ARIZONA: I'll continue on the theme just a bit. We hear the word concession a lot. And we shouldn't make concessions to dictators. Part of the executive orders taken over the past couple of years, one of the first of which is 2009 we found Cuban Americans that had families still in Cuba would have to choose between going to their mother's funeral or father's funeral if their parents died in the same three years. What a horrible thing to ask of an American. Do you believe it is a concession to the regime to allow a Cuban American to visit or to go to his father or mother's funeral in Cuba?

TILLERSON: Senator, these are really heartbreaking questions that again I have to take us back to what are our statutes? What are the provisions that govern that? And these are where exceptions become really difficult. And so, I want to be honest with you. When I say my expectation is if confirmed is to do a complete bottoms review of all these issue issues, under what provisions are we making these exceptions? Under what conditions can we grant perhaps an exception for someone to resolve these really difficult personal issues for people? But not undermine our American values which is the leadership of Cuba must change the way it treats its people.

FLAKE: I don't think it was the President's executive authority to make that change. I don't think it was questioned. There was certainly no lawsuits filed or any real resistance as soon as a Cuban American traveled back to Cuba it was assumed this is a great thing and hundreds of thousands have and remitted more money. It was illegal for them to send fish hooks to family members on the island before. Those were removed I would submit those are not concessions to a regime, it's not a concession to a regime to allow Americans to travel, those are on Americans not Cubans, same thing with diplomatic relations we have some relations with some pretty unsavory countries, or the leadership is pretty unsavory, we have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, is it a concession to the regime to have diplomatic relations with the country?

TILLERSON: Well, this is a question again that is grounded in long standing historic policy of the United States.

FLAKE: Right.

TILLERSON: And that policy and the statutes that govern that policy if the time has come for statutes to be altered, that will be the role of Congress to alter those statutes.

FLAKE: Right.

TILLERSON: In the meantime, at the state department if I'm there and confirmed to be there it's our role to enforce what Congress has expressed its desire, so if the judgment of the Congress and the judgment of the state department, the President elect through consultation views we have moved to a different place, then we should address that, but not just ignore what the law of the land is.

FLAKE: Right. No, I understand that completely. I'm just saying diplomatic relations with countries is not a concession to those countries. It is in our national interest, the way we practice state craft and diplomacy is to have diplomatic relations and I would suggest that's the same with Cuba, there are fugitives in custody in Cuba, and fugitives in other countries that we would like back as well, we use state craft and diplomacy, there are fugitives in custody in Cuba, and fugitives in other countries that we would like back as well, we use state craft and diplomacy to try to arrange those things, if we say we're going to withhold diplomatic relations with ambassadors where would we be?

So, I would suggest that a review is prudent. Allowing Americans to travel to Cuba, we still have restriction restrictions, I would suggest the restrictions have Americans place more money in the government's hands when they travel to Cuba, if we just lifted the travel ban completely and more easily ensure more money goes to family members and entrepreneurs on that island, so I'm glad a review is going to take place and I'm glad that you're going to be part of that review. Just in a minute and a half left, you have talked a lot about sanctions as I mentioned in the beginning I share your aversion to sanctions when they're practiced unilaterally. Sanctions are simply a method we have to change behavior or induce or to punish countries. What other tools do we have without resorting to sanctions?

[15:40:00] TILLERSON: Depending on what exactly the issue is and what the target country is, certainly we have other tools related to our trade policies in general. We have tools related to our immigration and visa exchange policies in particular. In terms of the soft power side of this, obviously, we always have the hard power tool to use so I think it does depend on the specific country, the specific issue, what our relationship has been. What are the pressure points that they're going to feel it? And that's the issue I have around ensuring that sanctions are properly structured so we hit the proper pressure point that causes the change in the way that party's thinking or change in the direction they're going. So, it is very much case by case in terms of what we can use to apply pressure to whatever government we are wanting to alter their course.

FLAKE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CORKER: Thank you very much. I appreciate your comments on Cuba and the multilateral sanctions issue and I will say you're going to find on both sides of the aisle strong divisions on the issue of Cuba. People sitting next to each other having very, very different views and I do hope you will seek input of all as you do this top to bottom review. Having sat here I do want to clarify that I don't think necessarily you expressed an aversion to sanctions, I think what you may have expressed if I heard correctly is just ensuring when they're implemented they're implemented in a way that's appropriate, is that correct?

TILLERSON: That's correct, chairman, and the comment at one point this morning, having it is worse than having no sanctions at all because it sends a weak signal to the target country and they say oh, they're not really serious after all so if we're going to have sanctions they need to be carefully crafted.

CORKER: Senator Kaine.

TIM KAINE, SENATOR, VIRGINIA: Thank you. Mr. Tillerson. I want to stay in the Americas, you and I had a good discussion about the Americas and you have done work in the Americas and also being a Texan you understand the importance of the relationships. We've been grappling on this committee an in this country unaccompanied minors coming from the northern triangle that migration from Mexico is kind of almost at an even zero point but the instability in the northern triangle, drug trade and weak civil institutions has created challenges, we supported in a bipartisan way, investments in the northern triangle but want to make sure they're targeted in the right way of bringing more stability and creating opportunity so people don't feel a need to flee. Talk a little bit about that part of foreign affairs portfolio and how would you approach those issues?

TILLERSON: We talked about the hot spots and I say that in all seriousness because I don't think we should in any way downgrade the importance of the western hemisphere and what's going on not just in what's going on in North America but South America as well, there are important relationships, there are not unimportant national security issues in this hemisphere also. But as to the immigration challenge and I think you described it pretty well what's happened over the last most recent time, is a real shift in where these people coming across the border in an illegal fashion where are they coming from? Largely transiting from Mexico south of Mexico's border. I'm aware of the northern triangle project trying to strengthen law enforcement because a lot of people are motivated to run from high crime ridden areas, anti-narcotics trafficking, helping strengthen the govern institutions and providing a safer environment for people to the extent we can direct assistance programs to give economic development as well.

Some is simple infrastructure projects and not how to just use this special targeted efforts and funds made available there but also how we use other aid programs like the millennial challenge to develop the capabilities of these countries to perform better. I do think and I know you and I spoke about this when we were in your office, kind of out of our true compassion coming across the border unaccompanied minors how to deal with that and I know and in response to that challenge there's been some well-intended action taken and programs like DACA the deferred treatment of adjudication of these cases all well intended but when those got translated back to the host country the places these people are leaving from, we know that it got miss interpreted.

And even the leaders of those countries have spoken in public and indicated look, the wrong signals are being sent down here as a result of this effort to be compassionate and in fact it's incentivizing because it's misunderstood taken from greater risk to themselves to their children to try to make this journey across Mexico largely using illegal smugglers to get them to this country, so I think we just have to be very thoughtful about the signals we're sending the messages we're sending and I think go back as you say go back and try to address some of the issues in the host country, also work with Mexico our partner right next door, this is a challenge for them.

How to secure their southern poorest border and deal with this transiting to get to their country to the land of the free and the home of the brave where everybody wants to be, so that will be the challenge we have before us. We're going to have to deal with the situation that we have today. The reality of it. I think this is where the intent of the President elect while he does express it this the view of the wall but what he is really expressing is we have to get control of this border, to prevent and stop the flow of people coming across and how we do that, what policies and how we execute those are yet to be developed but certainly the state department if I confirm will have a big role in the foreign aspects of that. Once they come across the border they're largely the homeland security's responsibilities.

The state department's role will be what actions can we take the prevent the movement of the people in an illegal fashion? We want people to come legally. This is the history of the country is that people came here legally.

KAINE: Mr. Tillerson, thank you. I encourage people to fly north to south not just east and west, and other parts of the world have a claim in our attention, but there are some real opportunities.

[15:50:00] I assume you support the U.S. position that's been in place since the 1940s to do what we can to provide a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine with a living peacefully side by side, that is the dream we hope for that region and I assume that you support that?

TILLERSON: I don't think anyone would take a position they don't hope for peace in that area for the issues to be ultimately resolved. KAINE: And peace within the context of two-state solution as was

determined by the U.N. and been the bipartisan policy since the late 1940s?

TILLERSON: I think that's the dream everyone is in pursuit of. Whether it can be a reality remains to be seen.

KAINE: I think that's right that's frustrated all of us that's been the bipartisan policy since the late 1940s?

TILLERSON: I think that's the dream everyone is in pursuit of. Whether it can be a reality remains to be seen.

KAINE: I think that's right that's frustrated all of us that's been so little progress so what do you think from the secretary of state's position you could do to try to hasten the day when we could find a path forward? People didn't think you could find a peace deal for Ireland.

TILLERSON: I'm glad you put it in the context of hundreds of years. That was euphemistic. But I think it is indicative of how conflicts like this take a long time and sometimes it takes another generation to have a changed view. Oftentimes we just have to try and make the situation as stable as possible and limit the impacts on people that are living there now. The Palestinian people have suffered a lot under, under their own leadership in many cases as a result of there not being more progress made. So, I think it has to be a shared aspiration of all of us that that ultimately is resolved.

The issues are long-standing and I think it's the state department's role to create, try to create an environment that brings parties together to want to find a way forward. I can tell you under the conditions today that's just -- it's extremely challenging to do that, but that has to be the aspirational goal. And to your example, sometimes it takes a different generation that's not carrying all that baggage of the past with them.

KAINE: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CORKER: Absolutely, thank you. Senator Young.

TODD YOUNG, SENATOR, INDIANA: Thank you. Mr. Tillerson, from the outset I just want to thank you, the level of candor you've shown throughout this hearing. You've engaged on issues, you've answered questions. You've been adept at times and I want that from our nation's chief diplomat. The only request I would make is that they don't coach that out of you should your nomination move forward and you become our next secretary of state, which I suspect you will. So, thank you for that. In your prepared statement, you write, quote, defeating ISIS must be our foremost priority in the middle east, unquote. You also note later that defeat will not occur in the battle field alone. We must win the war of idea, something we've already discussed a bit here. I couldn't agree more.

We have to win the war of ideas. We can kill every single irreconcilable, as you know, who subscribes to this poisonous ideology, those who join ISIS do, and yet we're still going to have a problem. The organization will reconstitute itself, so, really there is something deeper we need to tap into, a deeper tap root. In your prepared statement, going back to that, you indicate that if confirmed you will ensure the state department does its part here in this war of ideas. Now, based on your presentation for this hearing, what is your assessment of the state department's current performance in the war of ideas? And once you make your comment specific to our effort against the Islamic State?

TILLERSON: Senator, I'm not sure I could articulate what the current state department is doing in the war on ideas, other than the advocacy, the public advocacy of condemning this type of brutality. I think, I think your observation that even if we defeat ISIS in its caliphate they will morph to something else. This is where we have to be truthful in our conversations with the American people. Terrorism has been a part of the world for centuries. It is the nature of man, the unfortunate nature of man. But what we have to do is certainly limit it and suppress it to a level that it is no longer a threat to our national security or a threat, an imminent threat to Americans or all other people in the world who value human life.

[15:55:00] YOUNG: So, in a recent hearing before the armed services committee, DNI Clapper indicated he believes U.S. might reestablish United States Information Agency to fight this information war, and to advance our efforts to defeat radical extremists or terrorists however one chooses to brand them. Do you agree this would be a good idea?

TILLERSON: I think as I indicated in the exchange with Senator Portman, we have got to up our game in terms of how we engage in both the digital communication world, because that's where ISIS has been very effective, and other radical groups, al-Qaeda and others have been effective in using the digital communication space to spread their message. We've got to become more effective at countering that message and countering that message. Portman's observation that it's not all digital. There are other communication mechanisms that are effective broad based, in terms of how do we communicate particularly in those parts of the world that could be susceptible to these messages.

YOUNG: For the record, for the benefit of my colleagues and also for your benefit, I'll note that I'm just coming from the House of Representatives. In my final two-year term, I introduced legislation so that Congress could assess whether or not the counter, countering violent extremism initiative within the Obama administration was working or not. Is it working? I was prepared to be briefed in a classified setting, yet the administration came out fairly strongly against our efforts to exercise oversight. So, my hope would be that I can work together in a bipartisan way in the next administration, we will have the tools to assess whether or not we are improving and work with the administration to ensure that we are, in fact, killing the terrorists, countering violent extremism, most importantly making sure this effort doesn't reconstitute itself moving forward. Mr. Tillerson, back to the prepared statement, you write that China has not been a reliable partner in using its influence to curb North Korea. I know we've discussed this before, slightly different attack here. Just open-ended question here. Why do you believe China has not done more?

TILLERSON: Well, I'm aware that under the most recent version I believe of the U.N. sanctions which had been ratcheted up with each of North Korea's provocative, whether it's been a nuclear test or the test firing of a missile, that -- and I indicated earlier China is 90 percent of North Korea's trading export, import trading. They really do have complete control over what sustains the government in North Korea. A big part of that is the sale of anthracite coal aa cross the border. They did speak to that sale. I think that is an area we have to hold China accountable to comport with the sanctions put in place with the U.N. we have to call people out on it when we view they're not complying.

YOUNG: So, there might be -- there might be an opportunity to exploit there with respect to the reliance on anthracite coal to ensure the missile and nuclear programs comply with international law and our security interests?

TILLERSON: Well, under the U.N. resolutions, North Korea has already violated those on multiple occasions with both the nuclear test including the one most recently in September as well as their firing of tests --

YOUNG: Let me interject, which is D.C. talk for interrupt. What would you suggest to the President of the United States he consider doing to wield more effective influence over China's decision making on North Korea, in ten seconds or less, please?

TILLERSON: It does involve -- well, it does involve a concerted response from our allies as well, Japan, North Korea, and making sure china understands as part of this whole of china approach, that this is an important element of what they can do to strengthen our relationship or they can do to weaken our relationship with them.

YOUNG: Thank you.

CORKER: Thank you, sir. Senator Markey.

EDWARD MARKEY, SENATOR, MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for sticking this out, Mr. Tillerson, this is a long day. I want to come back to the issue of human rights because I do worry that there are going to be a lot of human rights advocates, a lot of people who are hoping that the United States maintains its leadership role on maintaining and promoting human rights around the world. We are going to be worried about some of your testimony here today, asked about the 3500 extra judicial killings in the Philippines, you weren't yet ready to say you had enough evidence to call that a violation of human rights.

[16:00:00] Similar answer on Saudi Arabia and a similar answer with respect to the war crimes perpetuated by the Russians inside Syria. So, I guess the simple question for you is this. If you're not ready to say today that what's happening in the Philippines is a human rights violation, despite the fact that the President brags about killing people without trial or the denial of rights to women in Saudi Arabia as a named human right violation or what is happening in Syria as war crime, can you maybe give us a little bit of a sense of what countries today you would consider to be violators of human rights.