US senators harshly criticize Argentina
US President Obama’s nominee to become ambassador to Argentina, Noah Mamet, acknowledged the United States has “fundamental disagreements” with Buenos Aires during a hearing in which two members of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday challenged his qualifications to become the top diplomatic envoy in Argentina.
Under questioning by Western Hemisphere Subcommittee head Marco Rubio, Mamet acknowledged he had never so much as visited Argentina, a country that the influential Republican Senator said was more insolent than North Korea.
Democratic Senator for New Jersey Bob Menéndez was also critical of Mamet, who was nominated for the post July 30, 2013.
Mamet acknowledged he had never even visited Argentina.
“Senator, I haven’t had the opportunity yet, I have travelled extensively around the world but I haven’t yet had the chance,” responded Mamet when Rubio asked if he had been to the country.
Both senators said that Mamet, who was questioned during the hearing, lacks the experience needed to be assigned to a country in which “an economic crisis is probably near.” Rubio emphasized a sour state of affairs with Argentina, while Mamet gave a positive spin on the relations with Argentina.
“We have an ally that doesn’t pay bondholders, doesn’t work with our security operations, is reopening the AMIA terrorist investigations ... these aren’t the actions of an ally,” Rubio said, concluding that this would only change with “a new government.”
“This is a position that merits someone with experience, and I have nothing against him, but it concerns me that he does not have the necessary experience,” Republican Senator for Florida and Rubio, touted as a potential presidential candidate in the future, told the Associated Press.
Following the inconclusive hearing to clear Mamet’s nomination for debate on the Senate floor, Foreign Relations Committee head and Menéndez said he was also left worried, because “much more depth is needed.”
The Republican senator immediately followed up: “Here is why I ask ... This is with all due respect, but I think this is a very significant point (indirectly implying that the nominee was inexperienced). We have a trend in Latin America where people get elected but don’t govern democratically. And Argentina is an example of this.”
In many instances when Mamet was asked to go into greater depth on a subject, he reiterated the same four or five issues.
For example, when Menéndez asked the nominee, “How would you define Argentina’s position with intellectual property, money laundering and narcotics trafficking,” instead of directly answering the question, he deflected by highlighting positives: “We’ve had a good relationship over the years working on a number of fronts, energy, non-nuclear proliferation, the UN...”
Menéndez followed up to ask: “What about intellectual property?” with Mamet’s admitting: “Let me get back to you on that.”
Both Rubio and Menéndez, who interrogated Mamet during the hearing, described Argentina as an example of a regional trend in which democratically-elected governments begin to restrain press freedoms and the Judiciary.
A ‘peculiar ally’
Mamet retorted that he considered Argentina an “ally with whom we have fundamental disagreements,” to which Rubio contested: “They must be the most peculiar ally in the world, because neither do they pay their debts nor cooperate militarily,” referring to the perceived sluggish negotiations over the debt with the Paris Club and a weak military relationship since contents of a US Air Force airplane were seized at Ezeiza airport in 2011.
Rubio said he does “not consider Argentina an ally or an enemy.”
The questioned nominee did recognize a problematic bilateral relationship, citing difficulties for US companies in Argentina to import and export.
“Argentina is on the list of countries we are controlling and looking at closely regarding the drugs and narcotics issue,” Menéndez defied, challenging Mamet further: “Please explain what we are going to do about the Kirchners and their ill-treatment of (the) Clarín (Group),” referring to the defiance of the latter to the Broadcast Media law.
Rubio went as far as arguing that “not even North Korea has dared to mock us in this manner,” after saying that Argentina does “not accept US courts’ (verdicts), they do not want to pay, and will enter another default.”
Mamet founded the Noah Mamet & Associates LLC political consultancy, collaborating for the Democrat party on different occasions. As the hearing started, Democrat Senator Michael Bennett, largely responsible for steering the party to retain its majority in the chamber at the last elections, intervened to recommend Mamet for the position at stake in Buenos Aires, currently held by Vilma Martínez, highlighting the latter’s prominence among Democrats.
“He has a profound understanding of the role our nation holds and the challenges it faces in the world,” Bennett stated, adding: “We will do very well if his appointment is confirmed.”
Mamet bundeld US$500,000 for Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Several of Obama’s ambassadorial nominees for the region have been delayed.
Herald staff with AP