Kerry: Ukraine Aid Needs to Happen Now

Argues IMF reforms sought by administration should be included.

Secretary of State John Kerry gestures as he speaks in the US Embassy in Kiev on March 4, 2014.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
March 13, 2014, 8:45 a.m.

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry pleaded with law­makers Thursday to pass Ukraine aid im­me­di­ately.

“We need aid for Ukraine, and we need it now,” he said at a House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee hear­ing on the State De­part­ment budget.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Cali­for­nia Demo­crat Brad Sher­man, urged Kerry to pres­sure the Sen­ate to take up the House-passed bill that would provide $1 bil­lion in loan guar­an­tees im­me­di­ately, and to not al­low a push to in­clude re­forms to the In­ter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary fund to drag out the pro­cess.

“I hope that you would make it clear that the Sen­ate should pass the House $1 bil­lion aid bill now, be­cause the plan to load up IMF re­form — which I know you very much sup­port — and put that on the back of the Ukraine bill threatens to delay that bill for three le­gis­lat­ive weeks, which, I might add, is six cal­en­dar weeks,” he said.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Royce told Kerry at the out­set that the IMF re­forms should be re­moved from the Ukraine aid de­bate. 

“The Sen­ate should move on this le­gis­la­tion today,” Royce said about the House bill. “And leave IMF de­bates to later.”

Earli­er in the day at a Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on the State De­part­ment and For­eign Op­er­a­tions budget, Kerry said the U.S. would be send­ing the wrong mes­sage to Ukraine if it failed to in­clude In­ter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund re­form in an aid pack­age.

“We must have IMF re­form,” Kerry said at the Sen­ate hear­ing. “It would be a ter­rible mes­sage to the Ukraine not to be able to fol­low through,” on boost­ing the fund’s lend­ing ca­pa­city.

But when pressed later by Sher­man on wheth­er the IMF re­forms should be al­lowed to hold the aid up, Kerry was forced to place pri­or­ity on the aid piece of the pack­age.

“I want both, and I want them both now,” he told Sher­man. “But If I can’t have one, we have got to have aid, we’ve just got to get the aid im­me­di­ately. We can’t be toy­ing around here at a crit­ic­al mo­ment for Ukraine.”

Kerry said he did not want to get caught in the polit­ics of the is­sue. (The IMF re­forms are con­tro­ver­sial with some Re­pub­lic­ans, but the Ukraine aid en­joys broad bi­par­tis­an sup­port.)

“I know how things work up here,” Kerry said. “I don’t want to get in­to the polit­ics in between, but to the de­gree I do get in­to it, we need both. We need them now.”

Kerry sought to knock down cri­ti­cism of the IMF re­forms, ar­guing that they are a lever to en­cour­age demo­cracy and in­crease the pool of coun­tries that con­trib­ute to in­ter­na­tion­al aid ef­forts. 

At the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing, Demo­crat­ic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chaired the hear­ing, ar­gued it was im­port­ant for the Sen­ate to un­der­stand which ver­sion of Ukraine aid the pres­id­ent wanted to sign — the House-passed bill that au­thor­izes $1 bil­lion in loan guar­an­tees, or the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee’s ver­sion, which would in­clude IMF re­form and sanc­tions against Rus­sia.

“I’m look­ing at right now we have two dif­fer­ent pieces of le­gis­la­tion on the Ukraine,” Leahy said. “All of us are hop­ing we can get agree­ment on a bill that the pres­id­ent can sign.”

Earli­er in the week, it had seemed that the Sen­ate had hoped to pass a Ukraine aid pack­age be­fore it ad­journed for a weeklong re­cess, but by Thursday such ac­tion ap­peared in doubt.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is gun­ning for IMF re­forms in­cluded in the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions bill that would en­able the fund to in­crease its aid to coun­tries in crises like the Ukraine, but is con­tro­ver­sial with some Re­pub­lic­ans, who think it is un­ne­ces­sary.

Leahy made it clear that the buck stops with ap­pro­pri­at­ors. It is the State, For­eign Op­er­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee of Ap­pro­pri­ations that will ul­ti­mately de­cide how much and what form of aid Ukraine will re­ceive.

“One of the things that seems to be miss­ing from the press re­lease and op-eds is that the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, and this sub­com­mit­tee in par­tic­u­lar, will ac­tu­ally de­cide what as­sist­ance and how much to provide,” he said. “Of course, that will de­pend on what evolves in the Ukraine over the com­ing months; none of us can pre­dict that.”

Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, the pan­el’s rank­ing mem­ber, made a plug for the IMF re­form, ar­guing that it provides a wise in­vest­ment and an ad­di­tion­al tool in the tool­box to aid in non­mil­it­ary solu­tions.

Kerry ar­gued that the IMF piece is crit­ic­al. “The IMF is the tool that helps to bring coun­tries in­to align­ment on their trans­par­ency, ac­count­ab­il­ity [in] their re­forms, their mar­ket eco­nomy, all of the things that are in our in­terests,” he said. “I could not un­der­score more, Sen­at­or Gra­ham, the im­port­ance of what you are say­ing and the im­port­ance of fol­low­ing through.”

Gra­ham said he has of­ten been at odds with the ad­min­is­tra­tion but hin­ted that he be­lieves some mem­bers of his own party are throw­ing up un­ne­ces­sary road blocks by res­ist­ing IMF re­form.

“I have been crit­ic­al — I think some­times force­fully and ap­pro­pri­ately so — about this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign policy,” said Gra­ham. “But Con­gress needs to do some self-eval­u­ation of where we are as a body. What is our role in all of this?”

On wheth­er Rus­sia’s in­cur­sion in­to Crimea could in­ter­fere with its role in ap­ply­ing pres­sure on Syr­ia to dis­mantle its chem­ic­al weapons, Kerry said he hoped it would not, but could not guar­an­tee it.

He said that Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad is “not win­ning, but not los­ing” the civil war there and that the U.S. is still op­tim­ist­ic it can work with the Rus­si­ans to en­sure a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion.

“Wheth­er or not we can suc­ceed in get­ting that done will de­pend to some de­gree on the out­come of events that we are ob­vi­ously all fo­cused on with re­spect to Ukraine,” he said.

“My hope is that what hap­pens in the Ukraine will not in­ter­fere.”

Kerry said he be­lieves “Rus­sia main­tains a sig­ni­fic­ant in­terest in not hav­ing these chem­ic­al weapons loose, not hav­ing them fall in­to the hands of ter­ror­ists.”

“My hope is, we will con­tin­ue no mat­ter what,” Kerry said. “We are fo­cused on get­ting them out. The end dead­line for this is June. So, in fact, we are op­er­at­ing with­in the time­frame still. I still be­lieve its pos­sible to achieve this, and we will stay fo­cused on it.”

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