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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

 10:18 AM 

Feingold delivers final State Department speech

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold urged the United States and the rest of the international community to continue providing "sustained attention" to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of his final speech as special envoy to the central African region.

Feingold, speaking in Washington, D.C., touted diplomatic successes in the region during his 18-month tenure, such as reduced threats from the M23 armed rebels, better economic integration and an improved attitude toward the U.S.

But Feingold said he remains worried about deep-rooted problems, including violence against women as a weapon of war by other armed rebel groups, such as the FDLR, a rebel Hutu group believed to be responsible for numerous terrorist acts, including the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"The time is now to end the threat of the FDLR," said Feingold, saying it's in the "security interest of the United States" to stop armed groups from "creating cracks in society" that provide openings for extremism.

The longtime former senator from Wisconsin warned against viewing aid to the DRC as "of moral and humanitarian obligation alone."

Feingold said he's made 15 trips to the region in the past year and a half. He also touted a trip in November to Beijing, where he said he invited China, for the first time, to participate in U.S. efforts to work with "like-minded groups, traditionally Western countries," to "harmonize strategy and messaging and to share information."

Feingold said most Americans are unaware that China has long been active in the African region, but stressed, "As a major partner of Africa, China's voice is to be welcomed on messaging on peace and security issues in the Great Lakes, particularly on the need to eliminate threats to regional security, such as that posed by the FDLR."

Feingold said his Wisconsin roots made him highly aware of the potential of Africa's Great Lakes area as a source of healthy food and water-related industries, but also as an area with potential environmental concerns, similar to those faced in the U.S. Great Lakes region.

He called for "careful stewardship" of what he says represents half of the world's freshwater resources.

Feingold promised his continued support and involvement in DRC issues, quoting Pope Francis: "Peace is possible but we have to seek it."

Near the end of his speech, Feingold dropped a line that several media outlets interpreted as a hint of an upcoming Senate campaign.

He thanked "my once, current, and I hope, future Chief of Staff Mary Irvine," saying she "brilliantly held the ... operation together."

Irvine worked with Feingold in the State Department and, before that, in his U.S. Senate office.

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com


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