WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, wrapped up a Senate delegation visit to the Middle East to discuss the ongoing threat posed by Iran and to review developments in the Middle East peace process. He was joined by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and visited Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Egypt.
In Saudi Arabia, the delegation met with government officials to discuss Saudi efforts to confront Iran and its efforts to counter terrorism. Senator Casey departed Washington at the beginning of the month as President Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions package into law.
“Saudi Arabia and other states in the region have a critical role to play in building the pressure on Iran. In my discussions with the deputy foreign minister and Shura council, I underscored the importance of vigilance, particularly on restricting Iran’s financial networks,” said Senator Casey. “Saudi Arabia understands the threat posed by Iran very well and appears poised to play a critical role in helping to build consensus in the region.”
Senator Casey also met with the country’s National Dialogue Center where representatives meet to discuss societal reform and the Ministry of Interior which oversees the country’s counterterrorism effort.
In Iraq, Senator Casey met with Vice President Biden to discuss U.S. strategic interests in Iraq and the region. He received a comprehensive briefing from General Ray Odierno, Commander of U.S. troops in the country. He also met with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, Iraqiya party leader Ayad Allawi and President Jalal Talibani all of whom are central figures in ongoing negotiations to establishment a government.
“As we reduce the number of troops in Iraq, I encouraged Iraqi political leaders to peacefully resolve their differences and establish a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people,” said Senator Casey. “In order for the new Iraqi government to succeed, it must be adequately represented by each of the key groups. These leaders have a sense of urgency and understand they have a responsibility to form a government of national unity in a transparent manner.”
Senator Casey also used every opportunity to press the case of the three hikers detained in Iran, one of whom, Josh Fattal, is from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
During the visit to Baghdad, there were mortar attacks on the Embassy compound where the delegation stayed. While no one was injured, it was a stark reminder of the remaining security challenges that our troops and civilians face in Iraq.
In Iraq and Kuwait, the delegation also had the opportunity to meet with the men and women of our armed forces. On the 4th of July, Senator Casey met with troops from Pennsylvania at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait who have been given the responsibility to move thousands of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.
“I was honored and humbled to spend time with our troops on the 4th of July,” said Senator Casey. “These men and women are the best that America has to offer. They are dedicated to the task at hand. They have shown courage on the battlefield. And now they are once again taking the lead in ensuring a responsible drawdown of troops and equipment from Iraq.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Washington on the same day that the delegation arrived in Jerusalem. In Israel, Senator Casey met with senior Israeli officials including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as well as Tzipi Livni, the leader of the political opposition.
“While the peace process has recently had its ups and downs, I was encouraged by news reports about the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu,” said Senator Casey. “In our meetings with Israelis, we expressed confidence in the strength of the unbreakable bond between our countries and a two state solution to the conflict with Israel and a Palestinian state living in peace and security.”
Senator Casey continued, “I expressed my resolute support for Israel’s security as the country moves towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians. I reiterated the importance of the substantial security assistance provided by the U.S. which will likely top $3 billion this year and fund efforts to bolster the country’s defenses against rocket and missile attack by Hamas and Hezbollah.”
The delegation also met with Palestinian Authority leaders, including Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad who described his efforts to promote economic growth and security throughout the West Bank, which has led to an economic growth rate of seven percent in 2009.
In Lebanon, Senator Casey met with President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri as well as opposition and civil society leaders to discuss Hezbollah's increasing influence in Lebanese politics and the prospects for democratic reform in the country. He also discussed the significant U.S. security assistance to Lebanon as Hezbollah seeks to rearm following the 2006 war against Israel.
In Egypt, Senator Casey met with civil society leaders and government officials including Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Minister of Defense Hussein Tantawi and Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services Omar Suleiman.
“Egypt will face two important sets of elections this year and next. I hope that this process will reflect the democratic will of the Egyptian people and be conducted in a free and transparent manner,” said Senator Casey. “The Egyptian people deserve and the international community expects nothing less. As a measure of good faith, the Egyptian government should allow for international and domestic observation of the process as is done in countries around the world.”