February 20, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement after returning from a trip to the Middle East with Senator Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and Central and South Asian Affairs, and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“First, it was extraordinarily valuable to meet with dozens of Americans who are serving our nation at U.S. embassies and consulates in the region. They provided unparalleled advice on some extremely difficult and complex issues. It was an honor to talk to those who are serving our country in these challenging and sometimes dangerous assignments.
“During our visit to Israel and the West Bank, I was encouraged by the results that Secretary of State Kerry and his team are achieving to develop a framework for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Resolving this seemingly intractable challenge would do much to relieve tension in the Middle East.
“Secretary Kerry’s tenacity could be a game-changer, and after meeting with all of the key leaders and their top negotiators on both sides I am more hopeful than ever that a two-state solution is possible. The U.S. can help facilitate these negotiations, but it is ultimately up to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resolve the most difficult questions and choose a peaceful resolution to decades of conflict. During my visit to an Israeli missile defense battery, I was reminded that the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza is a constant concern for Israelis and that it is vital that the parties place a priority on security cooperation as they seek to establish a mechanism for peace.
“During our visit to Israel, we spent several days meeting with regional leaders and security experts to discuss the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. I am convinced that we must ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon capability, and that we should use these negotiations to test whether the Iranian leadership is willing to relinquish its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for rejoining the community of nations.
“Finally, in Lebanon I was struck by the perseverance of the Lebanese people who face growing threats from terrorism, sectarian tensions, a burgeoning refugee catastrophe, and other spillover effects from the war in Syria. I was pleased to be one of the first American officials to meet with the leaders of Lebanon’s newly formed coalition government who universally expressed their gratitude for U.S. humanitarian and security assistance to Lebanon. It was humbling to pay my respects at a memorial to the hundreds of American military personnel and diplomats who have given their lives in Lebanon over the years. It was a solemn reminder of the heavy price our nation has paid to engage in the world over the years and a testament to those Americans who put their lives on the line to serve our country.”
Photos from the Senator King’s trip are available for download here.
BACKGROUND: During their trip to the Middle East, Senators King and Kaine traveled to Israel, the West Bank, and Lebanon. In Israel they visited an Iron Dome missile defense site near the Gaza border. In Jerusalem, they met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
In Ramallah in the West Bank, the Senators held substantive discussions with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. They also met with a group of Palestinian business leaders and entrepreneurs, Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, and Members of the Israeli Knesset.
Over the course of their two-day visit to Lebanon, Senators King and Kaine met with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander General Jean Kahwagi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative Ninette Kelley, NGO representatives, and various Lebanese political figures.