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Tillerson to testify at four hearings

US Secretary of State will be grilled on a myriad of issues by lawmakers

WASHINGTON: United States lawmakers will grill Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about President Donald Trump's unpopular Budget, conflicting messages about foreign affairs and links between the administration and Russia, including his own ties, at congressional hearings which began yesterday.

The four hearings this week are a rare chance for members of the Senate and House of Representatives to question Mr Tillerson, who has not testified publicly on Capitol Hill since his acrimonious confirmation hearing in January.

That hearing was dominated by Russia, as both Republicans and Democrats worried that the former ExxonMobil executive, who had deep ties with Moscow, would be too soft on a country often at odds with the US.

Some 43 members of the Democratic caucus voted against Mr Tillerson's confirmation. It was the biggest "no" vote for a State nominee in decades.

Several senators planned to question Mr Tillerson even more closely about his view of relations with Moscow.

The Senate could vote on new sanctions on Russia as soon as this week.

"I haven't heard much from Mr Tillerson, and what I've heard from him hasn't satisfied my concerns," Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.

Mr Tillerson was scheduled to testify before Foreign Relations and a Senate Appropriations sub-committee yesterday, then before House Foreign Affairs and appropriations panels today.

Lawmakers want to know where the administration stands after Mr Trump seemed to side with Saudi Arabia and its allies in a dispute with Qatar, contradicting Mr Tillerson, who sought to ease differences between the US partners.

"The entire world has no idea where we stand with respect to the dispute between the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Qatar," said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a foreign relations committee member.

Lawmakers also promised close questioning about Mr Trump's Budget proposal, which features sharp cuts in spending on diplomacy and foreign aid, and big increases in military spending, a proposal several members of Congress dismissed as "dead on arrival".

Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the sub-committee that oversees the State Department budget, said he would argue against that proposal.

"I'm going to make an argument that soft power is very important in winning the war against terrorism, it's important for national security. When you look at the hard/soft power mix of this budget, it's way off-kilter," Mr Graham said.

Separately, 16 retired four-star generals and other ex-military officers said they would submit joint testimony to the Senate today about the importance of foreign aid to national security. - REUTERS

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