January 12, 2016

Returning From The Middle East, Kaine Condemns Attacks In Turkey, Iraq

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, condemned the attacks in Turkey and Iraq over the past two days.

“I’m saddened by yet another wave of suicide attacks in the Middle East, including today in Istanbul and yesterday in Iraq,” said Kaine, who was just in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square on Saturday. “The continued slaughter of innocent civilians is savage and unjustified, and the United States stands firmly with our allies, including the Governments of Turkey and Iraq, to defeat those who use terror to pursue their despicable objectives.  The United States will not waiver in its pursuit of ISIL around the globe until it and its radical ideology is defeated.  On Saturday, following meetings with Turkish government officials, I walked around the square where the attack in Istanbul took place today, visiting the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  That a bomber should attack an area representative of historical bridges between the East and West and Christian and Muslim only strengthens the resolve of our fight.”   

Kaine recently traveled to Europe and the Middle East as part of an eight-member Congressional delegation focused on regional security, including oversight of the Iran nuclear deal, the war in Syria, U.S. efforts to combat ISIL and Israeli security cooperation. In addition to meeting with leaders in Israel and Turkey, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the delegation heard from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials in Vienna, Austria on implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement. Kaine also traveled to Jerusalem and the West Bank to learn more about the status of stalled peace negotiations and hopes for future progress.

“There remains no substitute for the leadership of the United States in the region both as a security partner and as a beacon of democratic values and human rights,” Kaine said.  “Support for our allies against shared threats, including Iran’s nuclear ambitions, ISIL and the brutality of Assad’s civil war in Syria is unwavering, but we must empower the region to address the threats that emanate from within its own borders. This includes the provision of military, intelligence and humanitarian assistance, but also the promotion of diplomacy and peace in various theaters of conflict. I remain a steadfast supporter of the two-state solution and believe the door remains open for progress with the Palestinians. We should not lose focus on the centrality of this issue and the importance it holds to empower a younger generation amongst the other security issues in the region.”

Joining Kaine on the delegation were U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

In Vienna, the delegation met with IAEA officials, including Director-General Yukiya Amano, to learn more about the progress being made to implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the negotiated deal between the P5+1 and Iran to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Kaine supported U.S. adoption of the JCPOA in August 2015.  Kaine was also a key author of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which ensured Congress has a strong oversight role in the deal moving forward. Kaine emphasized that the IAEA’s credibility is on the line with the nuclear deal’s implementation and monitoring and that it would be a destructive blow to the organization if it does not quickly catch any attempts by Iran to undermine or cheat on the deal and immediately report those findings. Iran’s recent shipment of 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia is a positive step towards Implementation Day, and the IAEA assured the Senators that it will be able to verify that Iran took all necessary steps under the JCPOA to dismantle its nuclear program before any sanctions relief is provided. In October and last month, Kaine urged the Obama Administration to take strong actions to punish Iran for its development of ballistic missiles. Kaine will continue to press the Administration to follow through on its stalled announcement of plans to impose new, stricter sanctions on companies and individuals involved in developing Iran’s ballistic missile program.

During meetings in Israel with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Kaine emphasized the importance of moving past partisan divisions over the Iran nuclear deal to focus jointly on protecting Israel’s security and countering regional threats from Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIL, while also urgently working toward a two-state solution. This included discussions on a new ten-year bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on strategic cooperation. The Senators also visited a Gaza border crossing and patrol site as well as learned about anti-tunnel technology being developed to detect underground smuggling networks.

The delegation also met with the Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, who emphasized the symbol of hope that Bethlehem represents around the globe and noted that improving the life of Palestinians will lead to better outcomes for everyone, especially Israel. Finally, the delegation met with Labor Party Chairman and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog. 

Separately, Kaine held meetings in Ramallah and Jerusalem with next generation leaders from both sides to discuss how to reduce current levels of violence and get the peace process back on track, including steps the U.S. can take to help. Interlocutors were clear that while the situation is dire, there is no substitute to a political resolution backed by the U.S. and that greater contact and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians is necessary. Kaine also met with Members of the Knesset who stressed the importance of a democratic Israel that protects equal rights for all its citizens. Finally, Kaine met with Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations who expressed concern over recently proposed legislation in the Knesset imposing stringent reporting requirements on their organizations. The civil society groups stressed the necessity of keeping options alive toward a two-state solution.

While in Jerusalem, Kaine attended Mass at the Church of Gethsemane and visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

During the final stop in Turkey, the delegation held meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss the threat from ISIL and other terrorist groups and the Syrian refugee crisis.