U.S. President Joe Biden's nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has told lawmakers that the "biggest geopolitical test" the United States faces comes from China but said Russia remains a familiar threat.
William Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and Jordan, spoke on February 24 during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He called China "a formidable, authoritarian adversary" that is strengthening its ability to steal intellectual property, repress its people, expand its reach, and build influence within the United States.
But he said there may be room for cooperation with Beijing in areas such as climate change and nuclear nonproliferation.
He said Russia remained a disruptive and potent threat, although it is in many ways a declining world power.
"As long as Vladimir Putin is the leader of Russia, we're going to be operating within a pretty narrow band of possibilities, from the very sharply competitive to the very nastily adversarial," he said.
A recent hack of corporations and U.S. government departments believed to have been the work of Russians laid bare the perils of underestimating the Kremlin and served as a "very harsh wake-up" call about the vulnerabilities of supply chains and critical infrastructure, he said.
Burns said the Biden administration would soon produce an assessment of Russian-related issues, including the hack. Russia has denied involvement.
"I think it's essential for the CIA in particular to work even harder to develop our capabilities to help detect these kind of attacks when they come from external players from foreign players," he told the committee.
Burns, who was a lead negotiator in the secret talks that paved the way to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal under former President Barack Obama, also commented on Iran, saying it can never be trusted with a nuclear weapon.
Burns has said he would restore the nuclear deal with other major global powers that former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of in 2018.
Burns, 64, is expected to win confirmation and become the first career diplomat to lead the CIA. He has been confirmed by the Senate five times for his stints as ambassador to Jordan and Russia and three senior State Department positions.