Congressional Delegation Statement on Middle East Trip
Washington, D.C. - A senior bipartisan Congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today following their visit to Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
In addition to Pelosi, the delegation included Representatives David Hobson of Ohio, Tom Lantos of California, Henry Waxman of California, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, Louise Slaughter of New York, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
'The purpose of the visit to the Middle East was to assess the impact of events in the region on the national security interests of the United States. There is no separation between this delegation, Congress, and President Bush on the commitment of the United States to fight terrorism, end the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and pursue peace. We have no illusions about the complexity of the challenges facing this region, but hope that recent diplomatic activity will generate some momentum for progress.
'During our trip to Israel, we underscored the commitment of the United States to a secure Jewish state living in peace with its neighbors. We were pleased that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his desire for peace with Syria if Syria rejected terrorism, and asked us to bring that message to President Assad, which we did. We promised the families of kidnapped, captured, and missing Israeli soldiers that we would raise the issue of their loved ones in our meetings with leaders, which we also did by name and the circumstances of their loss.
'Our meetings with Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora, Saad Hariri, and Speaker Berri reinforced our belief that the people of Lebanon must be free to determine their country's future without outside interference. We were moved by our visit to the grave of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister. Those responsible for his assassination must be identified and brought to justice through an internationally administered process that is thorough, independent and transparent. We also emphasized to Speaker Berri that the Lebanese Parliament, which has not met for more than five months, must convene in order to approve the tribunal to investigate the Hariri assassination.
'In our visit to the Palestinian Territories, we were encouraged by the plan of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, to reform Fattah and shore up his security forces to reduce the influence of Hamas. We believe, as the Administration does, that efforts to strengthen President Abbas will enhance his effectiveness in a peace process intended to produce a two-state solution.
'In the interest of our national security and the stability of the region, the delegation strongly urged President Assad to control Syria's border with Iraq to stop the flow of foreign fighters who are a threat to U.S. troops and to the Iraqi people. Syria must also stop supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and must end any interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.
'We emphasized to President Assad that peace with Israel is essential to a U.S.-Syria relationship. We conveyed to him Prime Minister's Olmert's overture for peace talks when Syria openly takes steps to stop supporting terrorism.
'President Assad declared that he is ready to resume the peace process and enter into negotiations. The test will be whether Syria ceases its support for terrorism, engages in a productive and realistic effort to resolve its differences and live in peace with the State of Israel, and acts to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
'We requested Assad's help in freeing missing and kidnapped Israeli soldiers including: Gilad Shalit; Ehud Goldwasser; Eldad Regev; Guy Hever; Zachary Baumel; Tzvi Feldman; Yehuda Katz; and Ron Arad. And we requested the return of the remains of Eli Cohen for burial in Israel.
'In Damascus, we met with opposition leaders and representatives of families of dissidents. We conveyed our strong interest in the cases of Iraqi Democracy Activists Anwar al-Bunni; Aref Dalila; Kamal al-Labwani; Mahmoud Issa; Michael Kilo; and Omar Abdullah.
'The delegation had an extended meeting in Saudi Arabia with King Abdullah and discussed the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, particularly in the war against terrorism. The delegation commended the King on his efforts to end the violence and suffering in Darfur and Somalia, and to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward.
'In the meeting with the Shoura Council, the delegation discussed regional threats including Iran, and visa issues of concern to the Saudis.'