- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The nominee for U.S. ambassador to Iraq on Wednesday chided Baghdad’s government for allowing Iran to ship weapons to Syria via Iraqi airspace, calling the situation “unacceptable.”

“It is something that needs to stop, and that we are pressing and will continue to press until it does stop,” Robert S. Beecroft told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and committee chairman, noted the close relationship between Iraq and Iran, and said it is “completely inappropriate” for the U.S. to continue funding democracy in a country that works against its interests.

Mr. Kerry suggested that the U.S. hold future aid contingent on Iraq’s cooperation, a message Mr. Beecroft promised to relay to the Iraqi government.

In his opening statement, Mr. Beecroft described challenges facing the U.S. mission in Iraq, including sectarian violence, tensions with Turkey and the nation’s relationship with Iran.

He also addressed concerns expressed by committee members about religious freedom, al Qaeda’s influence, border leakage with Syria and other issues.

Still, Mr. Beecroft, who currently serves as charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, expressed optimism and said he sees Iraq as a valuable ally in the Middle East.

“A large majority of Iraqis … remain committed to resolving their differences politically instead of through violence,” he said. “Iraq’s oil production recently passed 3 million barrels per day, a level it had not achieved in more than three decades. U.S. commercial interests are returning to Iraq, and Iraqi students are studying in the United States in increasing numbers.

“These are signs of positive change, and the United States retains a vital and continuing role in support of Iraq’s democratic process,” Mr. Beecroft said.

President Obama nominated Mr. Beecroft after nominee Brett McGurk withdrew his name in June after his steamy emails to a Wall Street Journal reporter were made public.

Committee members emphasized the necessity of security at the Baghdad embassy in light of last week’s attacks at the consulate in Libya, and Mr. Kerry noted that the U.S. mission in Iraq is the largest in the world.

Mr. Beecroft said that since the beginning of the year the embassy’s staff has been reduced by 2,000 to about 14,000 employees, and vowed to further decrease the U.S. presence in Iraq.

The committee promised to move quickly to confirm Mr. Beecroft, who will succeed Ambassador James Jeffrey. He left the Baghdad post in June.

In his opening statement, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the committee’s ranking Republican, offered a tribute to J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador  who was killed in Libya last week.

Mr. Lugar said Mr. Stevens’ service “underscored the importance of our diplomacy and the difference that an ambassador can make.”

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