SHAHEEN TRAVELS TO MIDDLE EAST, MEETS WITH TROOPS DURING FOURTH OF JULY RECESS

July 14, 2010

(Washington D.C.)- U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled last week to the Middle East to meet with U.S. troops, military commanders, American diplomats, and high-level foreign officials to discuss the war in Iraq and the ongoing security threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East, including Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.  Shaheen met with officials in six countries - Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel, Lebanon, and Egypt.  Joining Shaheen on the Congressional delegation trip were Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ted Kaufman (D-DE).

After spending the Fourth of July with U.S. troops at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Shaheen made a two-day visit to the warzone in Iraq where she visited with U.S. troops and military commanders to discuss security conditions in the country and the ongoing redeployment of America's military.  There are approximately 76,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, which is down significantly from the beginning of this year, and plans call for a reduction to 50,000 troops by September.  During the visit to Iraq, Shaheen experienced just a sliver of what our troops face each day.  Temperatures reached as high as 114 degrees, and during the night in Baghdad there were mortar attacks on the Embassy compound where the delegation was staying.  Though a fairly common occurrence, it was another reminder of the security danger to our troops and diplomats still serving in the country.   

In Baghdad, Shaheen met with Vice President Joe Biden, who was in the country on an unannounced three-day visit.  She also received a comprehensive briefing from General Ray Odierno, the Commander of U.S. troops in the country, and met with New Hampshire troops stationed in the region, including Lieutenant General Robert Cone of Manchester, the current Deputy Commanding General in Iraq.

"Our troops are doing amazing work under nearly impossible circumstances, and I was proud to spend the Fourth of July holiday with them," said Shaheen. "They have done absolutely everything asked of them and proven time and again that they are the most impressive military force the world has ever seen.  It is our responsibility to help make sure that the U.S. redeployment from Iraq is done in an effective, efficient, and responsible manner so that their hard work and selfless sacrifices do not go to waste."

Shaheen also met with high level Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and President Jalal Talabani to discuss the security situation and the current political deadlock in forming a new Iraqi government. 

"This is an important turning point for Iraq," added Shaheen.  "As the United States transitions to a new role in Iraq and transforms its relationship with the country, the continued political impasse puts at risk hard-fought progress at a critical time. It is time for Iraq's political leaders to put aside their political differences, form a new government that is representative of the people of Iraq, and take full responsibility for the future of their country."

Over a two-day visit to Israel, Shaheen met with high-level American and Israeli officials to discuss the ongoing security threats faced by Israel and the United States in the region, including Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.  Shaheen met with a number of Israeli political and military leaders, including Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.  The delegation traveled to Sderot, a small Israeli town that has been attacked on multiple occasions by missiles from the Gaza Strip over the last several years, and received a briefing from the Israeli missile defense agency on the joint U.S.-Israeli programs being developed to counter the threat of long- and short-range missiles in the country.  

The delegation also traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with leaders from the Palestinian Authority, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is focused on building the Palestinian economy and security forces.  The delegation had wide-ranging discussions with both Israeli and Palestinian officials about the importance of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"The relationship between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable, and our delegation expressed our steadfast support to defend Israel's security in the face of the numerous threats it faces.  We also expressed America's equally steadfast commitment to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians," said Shaheen.  "A peace agreement with two states living side by side in peace and security is the only long-term, sustainable solution for the people of the region, and it is critical to the interests of the U.S., Israel, the Palestinians, the Arab world, and the entire region.  We applaud the President's commitment to the peace process and hope the U.S. will remain engaged and active in this process."   

Throughout her trip across the Middle East, Iran was repeatedly raised as one of the most dangerous threats in the region.  Iran's nuclear program represents a threat not just to the United States and Israel, but also to the entire Arab world.  From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon to Egypt, the delegation heard about the danger Iran poses to the region and the destabilizing effect a nuclear Iran would have on the entire Middle East.  At each stop, the Senate delegation expressed a strong desire to work with our allies and partners in the region to stop Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program.  

In Saudi Arabia, Shaheen met with Ambassador James Smith and his wife, Dr. Janet Breslin-Smith, both residents of New Hampshire. 

In all, the delegation held 57 meetings and briefings during the 10-day trip.                  

High resolution photos can be downloaded at: http://shaheen.senate.gov/photo_galleries/

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