The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump's pick to be U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, Thomas Hushek.
During his one-day hearing, Hushek said he is ready for the job despite the complexities of going to a country like South Sudan.
Democratic Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker who has visited South Sudan, told Hushek he is frustrated with the lack of progress on the South Sudan peace process and with the Trump administration's failure to flesh out a policy regarding South the conflict, now in its fifth year.
"My concern is compounded by not only the deteriorating effects in South Sudan, but I just feel we have no articulated strategy to deal with this crisis," said Booker. "And more than that, I have to say I am very concerned about this administration's concern about this crisis."
US weapons from Uganda
Booker also voiced frustration over what he calls the undermining of U.S. efforts in South Sudan by neighboring governments who help prop up the Kiir administration.
He said the UN panel "has reported that Uganda has supplied Kiir's regime with weapons and we are giving weapons."
"The DOD [Department of Defense] has spent $130 million to train and equip in Uganda," he added. "And according to my notes, we have given a lot of heavy equipment, including helicopters and ammunition, and there is concern that they have been transferred from Uganda to South Sudan."
Booker wondered if this isn't "a serious undermining of our efforts in that area?"
Hushek said he was unaware of any U.S.-supplied weapons being transferred from Uganda to South Sudan. If true, he said the practice "needs to be ended if the idea of the arms embargo or stopping the ammunition and arms flows into the country is in order to reduce the suffering of the victims of the civil war."
Two aid workers were killed in South Sudan several days ago, the first this year. The deaths bring the number of humanitarians killed in South Sudan to at least 98, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. And as Hushek said, the numbers keep rising, making South Sudan the most dangerous place in the world for aid workers.
Hushek assured the senate panel he is committed to working toward ending the violence.
"If confirmed, I will press the leaders of all parties to the conflict in South Sudan, and especially the government, to disavow violence and make the hard compromises necessary to achieve a peaceful resolution of their political differences," he said.
Hushek added that he will "work tirelessly to urge respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms so that the people of South Sudan might once again aspire to a peaceful and prosperous future."
The State Department has sanctioned certain, high-powered individuals in South Sudan, applied a domestic arms embargo, and added restrictions on US companies who do business with the country's oil sector. Hushek said those pressures will not only continue but will be increased in coming days.
"Last fall we took it up to the next level and we put on sanctions on some people that were on cabinet level positions in the government of equivalence," Hushek told U.S. senators. "And the idea is to continue to increase this pressure."
A number of high level vacancies remain at the U.S. State Department. Mike Pompeo is scheduled to undergo Senate confirmation hearings to be the next Secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson. The posts of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan remain vacant.
Source: Voice of America