WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday questioned Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun at a Committee hearing on advancing effective U.S. competition with China. Murphy specifically pressed Biegun on the consequences of the Trump administration’s failure to publicly address reports of Russian bounties on the heads of U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan and the dynamic between the United States, Russia, and China on the world stage as we look towards negotiating a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
Murphy warned of the administration’s inaction in responding to Russian bounties on heads of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, saying: “I don't think we've gotten the chance yet to get a member of the administration on the record with respect to very credible reports that suggest the Russian government was paying what would commonly be referred to as bounties, for the murder of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That, of course, crosses the line. It is a fairly unprecedented abuse of one [United Nations] Security Council permanent member by another. And thus far, the American public and the world haven't seen any consequences—not even a public acknowledgement of that abuse having been committed against the United States. I worry that China watches that and take signals from it.”
Murphy continued: “…while you may be suggesting that there are actions being taken that have been not made been made public, I think we're at the point where the world and this country wants to know what those consequences are, and I think it does have impact with respect to our relationship with other great powers.”
Murphy also discussed the negotiations between the United States and Russia on a new nuclear arms treaty or New START, saying: “I just want to make sure that China isn't going to be the one that decides whether the United States and Russia decide to renew that agreement.”
A full transcript of Murphy’s exchange with Beigun is below.
MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Good to see you, Mr. Secretary. You know, U.S. foreign policy for much of the last 40 years has been about studying the interactions of China, Russia and the United States and two of that three trying to play off one against the other. And I want to ask two questions today that get at what I think is a continued priority for this committee and this administration to understand how that interplay works in modern times.
“The first is this: You have laid out a series of actions that the administration has taken with the hope of sending clear messages to China, about the consequences of its actions, especially when it comes to ways in which they infringe on the rights of the United States at home and abroad. But China doesn't pay attention only to the message we send them; they also pay attention to the messages that we send to other nations, and Russia is at the top of that list.
“I don't think we've gotten the chance yet to get a member of the administration on the record with respect to very credible reports that suggest the Russian government was paying what would commonly be referred to as bounties, for the murder of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That, of course, crosses the line. It is a fairly unprecedented abuse of one [United Nations] Security Council permanent member by another. And thus far, the American public and the world haven't seen any consequences—not even a public acknowledgement of that abuse having been committed against the United States. I worry that China watches that and takes signals from it.
“So I wanted to just ask you to tell us for the record today whether any action has been taken or is planned to be taken with respect to these, I think we would all agree, very credible reports.”
BIEGUN: “Thank you, Senator. I will answer your question, but I am also going to be mindful of the fact that the information that you're discussing comes from sensitive sources and methods.
“But let me say this—that any suggestion that the Russian Federation, or any part of the Russian government is employed in providing resources to fighters from other countries to attack American soldiers will be met with the most severe circumstances most severe consequences, including those individuals in their movements in the in the areas in which they're undertaking those activities. Were that to happen, they should expect a full and robust response.
“I will also say that any such report that came into the United States of America would be treated in two manners. First, it would immediately be notified to the Force Commander, and all necessary steps would be taken in order to protect U.S. soldiers anywhere in the world—particularly in a place like Afghanistan in which they serve at every hour of the day in a hostile environment. But it would also be the subject of a conversation between very senior officials, and both governments in no uncertain terms.”
MURPHY: “I think the horse is out of the barn with respect to these reports being solely classified, and thus while you may be suggesting that there are actions being taken that have been not made been made public, I think we're at the point where the world and this country wants to know what those consequences are, and I think it does have impact, with respect to our relationship with other great powers. Which leads me to my second question: with respect to the interplay of the United States, Russia and China and that is with respect to the negotiation of an extension of New START.
“It has—the administration has laid down some priorities in order to get to a new agreement and one of them is the inclusion of China in those discussions and ultimately in a new agreement. Were we to all live in a perfect world, of course we would want China at that table. Of course, it is in our interest to have China, right now, before they acquire the same number of arms and warheads as the United States agree to some limitation. But it likely does not stand to reason that China is going to enter into those negotiations because they would likely want time to catch up before they sat at a table with us.
“And so I think I would just love some assurance that we are not going to give China the veto power as to whether we engage in a renewal of an agreement with Russia that I think we can all agree, for the confines of that agreement, has worked to limit the arms race. I just want to make sure that China isn't going to be the one that decides whether the United States and Russia decide to renew that agreement.”
BIEGUN: “I appreciate that take and Senator I think you can see the evidence in front of you. I know that our Special Envoy for Arms Control testified in his additional capacity yesterday as Undersecretary for Arms Control. And also he was up here a few weeks ago, I believe, to brief members of the committee on the progress in our discussions with the Russians. Those are ongoing. We are imminently going to be dispatching the technical teams to continue a deeper level of discussion in Vienna, with the Russians, and that decision is ongoing.
“There's still a seat at the table reserved for China, but those conversations between the United States and Russia are going. I believe my colleague at the Department of State has emphasized this point in his discussions with you. But let me let me say it publicly as well. Russia has every reason to want China at those discussions as well.
“Russia faces a far more formidable challenge from China's presence on its southern border than the United States does. And this goes to the transactional nature of the relationship that I exist—I think exists between the two countries. The history between Russia and China is one of significant tension and the fact that it's papered over today because of a shared adversarial relationship with the United States is not an enduring basis for China-Russian relations.
“And I think many of the experts in Russia who work on these issues know full well that China should be at the table as well—not only because of its potential strategic challenge it could pose to the Russian Federation, but because China as a P5 member and is a recognized nuclear weapons state, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty is obliged to participate in good faith negotiations to reduce the level of nuclear forces it holds. The NPT-- the Non-Proliferation Treaty—doesn't say in proportion to other countries in the world. It says good faith efforts on reduction of nuclear forces, and that's what we're requesting of the People's Republic of China.”
MURPHY: “Thank you Mr. Chairman”