All blogs filed under Foreign Policy
Last week, President Obama reiterated the need for nations not to cling to stereotypes of one another, but to talk openly and honestly and to engage those unlike themselves. Student exchange programs and other culture-to-culture programs help break down these stereotypes. For this reason, I have been deeply saddened to hear multiple accounts of neglect and abuse of foreign exchange students residing in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
I have been told repeatedly that cases like these are rare and are caused by a few bad actors. However, I do not believe that a few bad apples are the only problems. After I and my staff participated in meetings with the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the Department of State, the Executive Director of the foundation responsible for placing these students, and the individual students involved and then reading Secretary Clinton’s response to my initial questions about youth exchange programs, I have concluded that aspects of the foreign exchange system are deeply flawed. Exchange organizations should not have the discretion to determine whether someone with a drug conviction can host a student. Crimes such as this should automatically disqualify the ability to host a student.
In the coming weeks, my office will work to ensure that protections within the industry are strengthened. When overseas families place their children in our care, they should have confidence that we will do our utmost to protect them.
As a Senator who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, it is my responsibility to occasionally travel overseas to conduct oversight and ensure we have the right approach to relations with both our allies and adversaries. This week, I have been honored to spend a few days in one of our closest partners, the state of Israel. Traveling with three other Members of Congress, our schedule has been packed with meetings with Israeli leaders -- including Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak today.
Two key issues dominated our conversations -- the common challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program and the need to revitalize progress toward a two state solution. The Prime Minister recounted to us his meeting with President Obama in Washington last week and his approach as we move forward.
I spent most of yesterday in the West Bank, getting a first hand look at the Palestinian security forces that can form the building block of a future Palestinian state. We also shared lunch with a group of impressive Palestinian business leaders.
The trip is not yet over -- we are flying onward to Turkey. Stay tuned for more posts.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I had the opportunity to raise two foreign policy issues of particular concern to me. I first asked the Secretary about the Administration’s approach to dealing with the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. The Secretary and I agreed that we must use all tools at our disposal, from diplomacy to robust economic sanctions, to convince the Iranian regime to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. I support President Obama’s plan to engage Iran diplomatically, and along with Senator Brownback of Kansas I recently introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009, legislation to authorize state and local governments to divest their pension funds of assets held by companies that continue to do business with Iran.
Secretary Clinton and I also discussed the escalating crisis in Pakistan. The Pakistani military is engaged in heavy fighting with the Taliban insurgency, which has captured territory within 60 miles of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. What is particularly troubling from the perspective of United States national security is the prospect of a Pakistani nuclear warhead ending up in the hands of the Taliban, Al Qaeda or other extremist groups. A terrorist group acquiring nuclear weapons would pose a grave threat to the world. The Secretary assured me that she and other senior U.S. officials are confident that Pakistan’s nuclear material is adequately secure. I will continue to work with the Administration to help counter the Taliban threat in Pakistan.
Click here to read my floor statement on our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Under President Obama's initiative, the United States has initiated the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. The Iraqi government will face many challenges to protect its citizens and ensure the country’s stability. One of those challenges will be dealing with a refugee crisis that has affected the lives of nearly five million Iraqis. Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, over two million Iraqis have been forced to relocate indefinitely to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region. Two million more have been forced from their homes and are stuck in camps for displaced persons inside Iraq. The majority of them are unable to return home because their old neighborhoods are unsafe. In addition, many do not have any prospects for employment. At the moment, the Iraqi government does not have the capacity to reintegrate such a large number of people back into society.
The United States has a moral obligation to assist these people whose lives have been turned upside down as a consequence of the war. I am pleased that the White House is committed to providing over a hundred million dollars of assistance and plans to increase the number of Iraqi refugees who will be resettled in the United States. In a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing that I chaired on this topic and in subsequent exchanges with senior Administration officials, I have encouraged the Administration to devise a comprehensive strategy to deal with this crisis.
Click here to read my opening statement from the hearing on the Iraqi refugee crisis.
Refugees International Iraq
Over the past two weeks, we have all seen the headlines regarding the troubling developments in Pakistan. I am deeply concerned by the gains achieved by Taliban extremists in Pakistan, who seized territory a mere 60 miles from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. These extremists are a threat to the United States because they provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda's senior leadership, who continue to plot attacks against our Nation. Most alarming of all is the prospect that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could be compromised and nuclear warheads or fissile material end up in the hands of Al Qaeda or Taliban militants. Since joining the Senate, I have highlighted the grave threat posed by a terrorist group acquiring the materials and technology to explode a crude nuclear device, which could destroy a major American city. That theoretical threat is now unfolding before our eyes in Pakistan unless we work with the Pakistani government to reverse current trends.
Pakistani President Zardari and Afghan President Karzai were in Washington last week for a unique "trilateral" session to meet with each other and with President Obama. I had the chance to join them for lunch on Thursday, along with other U.S. Senators. Both men faced a skeptical audience. While the United States can help Pakistan build its capacity to combat extremism, ultimately the Pakistani people must recognize that this war is their war and hence only they can truly win it. My colleagues and I were united, on both sides of the aisle, in delivering that message.
Yesterday, Dick Holbrooke, our special envoy to the region, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which I sit. Holbrooke fleshed out the President's strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think the President's new approach, focused on dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda, has real promise, but I worry that we may not have much time left. That is why it is so important the Congress pass in the next ten days the FY 2009 supplemental measure to ensure that the additional funding requested by our military and the State Department is available for immediate implementation, especially in Pakistan.
Click here to read my floor statement on our strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.