A U.S. Senate panel has held a confirmation hearing for ambassadorial nominees to four key nations, Israel, Egypt, Russia and Germany.
President Bush named the four men within the last two weeks. They are Richard Jones to be ambassador to Israel, Francis Ricciardone to be ambassador to Egypt, William Burns to be ambassador to Russia, and William Timken to be ambassador to Germany.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers the ambassadorships so important that it cleared its previously scheduled business Wednesday to allow for a confirmation hearing on the nominees.
Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, spoke for many on the panel.
"The four countries that you are going to represent are four of the most important geopolitical regional relationships this country has," said Mr. Hagel.
Ambassador Jones, who most recently served as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's advisor on Iraq, says if confirmed by the Senate, his first order of business would be to help ensure that Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank next month is a success.
"We recognize, for example, that it is absolutely critical that there be communication links, transportation links between Gaza and the West Bank. Remember that the disengagement does not only include Gaza, it also includes four communities in the northern West Bank. So there has to be a way of allowing people to go back and forth. There has to be a liberalization of movement within the West Bank," said Mr. Jones.
Ambassador Jones also vowed to speak out against terrorist attacks and he praised Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for his commitment to dismantling terrorist organizations.
Ambassador Ricciardone said if he is confirmed as ambassador to Egypt, he would work to support economic and political reform in that country. He looked ahead to the September 7 presidential election, in which President Hosni Mubarak, who has served more than two decades, is expected to run.
"We hope that Egypt will not only encourage domestic monitors but also invite international observers to bear witness to exemplary exercises in democracy," he said.
Ambassador Ricciardone most recently helped the Bush administration set up the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Ambassador Burns, whose most recent post was Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, said if he is confirmed as ambassador to Russia, he would help that country make further progress on the path to reform. But he cautioned the process would be, in his words, a struggle for at least a generation of Russians, and he warned of problems of corruption, crime, and an over-centralization of power.
"It seems to us that it is clearly in Russia's own self-interest to open up political opportunity, and to ensure that a system of checks and balances emerges over time, that you have independence in the media, which is a question mark today, and where you have an independent judiciary," said Mr. Burns. "That is not something that is going to be neatly measured in months or even in a few years, but it is very important to the long term self-interest of Russia as well as in our own long term self interest to see those processes continue and accelerate."
For his part, William Timken, nominee to be ambassador to Germany, vowed to bolster cooperation with that country in the war on terror if he is confirmed.
"Continuing robust U.S.-German counterterrorism cooperation is critical, and I will do everything I can to support it. I will work with the German law enforcement agencies to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fight the elicit narcotics trade, and combat trafficking in persons," he noted.
Mr. Timken is a retired business executive who served as finance co-chairman for President Bush's reelection campaign in Ohio last year.
All four nominees are expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate before lawmakers begin their August recess at the end of the week.