Senator Robert Casey held a conference call Tuesday, July 13 to report on his recent nine-day trip to the Middle East. Casey said that he held 56 meetings in nine days, meeting with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the West Bank.
In Saudi Arabia, he delivered the message that one of the best things the Saudis can do for the peace process is to make their payments promised to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Casey said that at this time last year the Saudis had given $200 million. This year, they have only given $15 million. Casey said he urged them to make the payments to the PA.
There are positive developments in the West Bank because of Saudi Prime Minister Fayad who has worked hard to build the economy. If the PA can’t make payroll, it will injure their ability to continue momentum and progress. The Saudis can be a huge help on that.
Casey said he had some good briefings about Saudi efforts to stamp out terrorism. He recalled that about 7 years ago the Saudis had a horrific experience with terrorism. They asserted they have dismissed 2000 imams involved with extremism.
The next visit was to Kuwait where Casey met with the Foreign Minister. The Senator raised the issue of the American hikers being held hostage by Iran, asking Kuwait to make sure this was on the table when they have dialogue with Iran.
Casey spent the Fourth of July in an American military camp in Kuwait, and he saw how complicated it is for our troops to move vehicles and supplies to Iraq.
As for Iraq – what will happen to their government? Casey commented that the vote was so close that they have to reach an accommodation. He saw some good indicators that they recognize they have to come together. Vice President Biden met with Casey and his delegation, saying the same thing.
Casey raised the hikers issue when he met with Iraqi leaders, asking them to keep this issue on the table when speaking with the Iranian regime.
As for Israel and the West Bank, Casey commented that the peace process has been the subject of intense discussion in the last week to ten days. He sees positive momentum, even in the aftermath of the controversy regarding the flotilla incident. He observed that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu had a good meeting in Washington, DC while the Senator was in Israel. He reiterated his commitment to the two-state solution.
Casey said he spent some time on border issues, and he praised the 7% economic growth in 2009 in the West Bank, crediting Prime Minister Fayad for the growth. In Ramallah, he said, it is visually evident that the economy is more vibrant, more successful. The Prime Minister spoke about almost 1500 entities which had received $150,000 grants – mini economic development packages, all the more reason why the Saudis – and any other country that has not paid its pledge – should pay up and fulfill their commitment. America has fulfilled its obligation, he added.
In Lebanon – until recently, a country paralyzed by the terror campaign of Hezbollah – Casey chaired a hearing on the threat posed by Hezbollah. Government officials there are afraid to speak out because of threats by Hezbollah.
Recently, Lebanon has been able to build up the Lebanese armed forces because of American assistance. Casey said that the American people have paid for training of thousands of police in Lebanon and also helped with education and economic development. Lebanon has a smaller population than Massacusetts.
Casey said his visit of Egypt went well. The Egyptians are very grateful for the billions of dollars America has provided. They spoke of cracking down on smuggling on the Gaza border, mentioned helping the PA to help them build up their economy. Casey raised the question of Egypt’s human rights problems. Casey praised our close relationship with this country which has a strong presence in the Arab world.
I asked Senator Casey whom he met with in Israel, and whether he Israeli officials or the general public was suspicious of President Obama’s level of his commitment to Israel. Senator Casey replied that he had met with Israeli leaders Ehud Barak, Mrs. Livni (the head of the Kadimah Party), and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, whom he has known for years.
Casey said that Israeli leaders appreciate President Obamas’ commitment to move the peace process forward. In the very first hours of his presidency, he called leaders in the Middle East.
“I think the record is very clear when it comes to the basic and most important issue. For Israel, it’s the country’s security. The administration is putting dollars on the table helping with missile defense, to put the dollars in place to make sure people of Israel are safe and secure. Couple the military assistance plus constant focus on the peace process and assigning George Mitchell to do this full time, add Secretary of State Clinton, Vice President Biden, the whole team, and I don’t think more could be done.”