Kaine discusses first Middle East trip

kaine new2U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, discussed on Monday his first overseas congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan, Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Germany.

During the July Fourth work week, he joined Sens. Cornyn (R-Texas), Cochran (R-Miss.), Sessions (R-Ala.), Boozman (R-Ark.), and Fischer (R-Neb.), to meet servicemembers in each country and discuss developing situations in Syria, Egypt and Iran, and the transition process in Afghanistan.

On July Fourth, the group was joined by Sens. McCain (R-Ariz.) and Graham (R-S.C.) during a visit to Afghanistan. Kaine called the stop “the highlight” of his trip, one that included critical national security discussions and bipartisan relationship building.

“It was really powerful to be with our troops on the Fourth of July,” Kaine said. “There were eight tables set up – one for each of the states represented by the senators who were in attendance. About 20 Virginians were at my table from all service branches and from the State Department and USAID, as well as Virginians who work with private contractors. We had a really good dialogue about everything from the role of the United States [in Afghanistan] after 2014, to the impacts of sequester, to how the Redskins are going to be this year. … It was a very good way to spend the Fourth.”

Describing his meeting with leaders of the UAE, Kaine shared how discussions were primarily focused on Iran given the country’s close proximity – about 50 miles away – and ongoing security concerns. Reflecting on our strong partnership with the UAE, Kaine noted the great work they do in tandem with the U.S. military at Al Dhafra Air Base.  Kaine also highlighted his high-level discussions with Jordanian officials about the situation in Syria, and stressed the importance of our strong partnership with Jordan.

“We discussed their strong belief that the U.S. and other nations continue to keep sanctions pressure on [Iran] and do other things necessary to make sure they do not move beyond use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and move to the point where they are enriching uranium for nuclear weaponry. That was a very important discussion to have because with some of the events in Syria and Egypt you could take your eye off of the problem in Iran, but we can’t afford to,” Kaine said.

Kaine also recounted the opportunity he had to visit Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where he met with Wounded Warriors as well as representatives from across the service branches and civilians working there.

“It’s an amazing facility,” Kaine said. “I was very proud of all the folks working there from all service branches. One great story was that I met a civilian neurosurgeon from Mayo [The Cleveland Mayo Clinic] who is a U.S. Navy Reservist who just happened to have a two week assignment and wanted to come there. And it was good he was there because he performed a very sensitive operation to remove a bullet from the back of a Virginian that had paralyzed him. Within a very short period of time the guy was doing better and the Mayo doctor said he had been doing this work a long time and what he saw in this recovery was about a 1 in a million chance. So that was a powerful thing to be able to thank the physicians and the civilians for their service.”

Describing his interaction with other Virginians being treated at Landstuhl, Kaine said he told them, “I’ll be in Virginia tomorrow so give me your wife’s phone number and I’ll call her and tell her what I’ve seen and tell her about the quality of medical care you’re receiving.”

“I was able to make a couple calls yesterday to talk to their spouses,” he continued. “It was really nice to visit.”

With Department of Defense furloughs set to begin this week as a result of the sequester, Kaine shared what he learned about the additional impact of sequestration at our overseas bases. He noted that according to one Ramstein Air Force Base official, they are not used to having fighter wings stand down and believe it will impact our force’s readiness capacity if we need to respond quickly.  The official also expressed concern over the possibility of having to order a unit into combat with lack of training or lack of flight hours, meaning they would not be at their peak performance levels.

“We are in a situation where the world is not getting safer every day. Whether it’s an Iranian nuclear threat, a North Korean nuclear threat, Egypt, or the situation in Syria, the world is not getting easier – it’s getting tougher,” Kaine said. “And as the world is getting tougher, we are using bad budget strategies that are hampering our ability to do what we need to do. That’s why I supported the vote in February to knock back the sequester. That’s why I supported a Senate budget that would trade off the budget cuts for ones that are targeted instead of across the board and backload them in the 10 year budget cycle. That’s why as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that the Armed Services Committee passed in June I proposed an amendment – one that’s a sense of the entire committee – that sequester is bad and we ought to do something to find a better alternative. I am going to continue to look for an alternative to sequester and for colleagues who want to join me in that. I have a feeling that my colleagues on Armed Services see it as starkly as any. What we saw in Germany didn’t do anything to reduce my sense of urgency about it.”

 

Background Itinerary Information for Congressional Delegation

Monday, July 1: Turkey

Adana [Syrian] Refugee Camp / Incirlik Air Base, Turkey

Met Virginia constituents at Incirlik Air Base, discussed Syrian humanitarian crisis and refugee impact on the region.

 

Tuesday, July 2 and Wednesday, July 3: Jordan

Met with U.S. Embassy Country Team and Jordanian government leadership, including Prime Minister Ensour, Foreign Minister Judeh, and Director of Royal Court. Discussions focused on how Jordan is a key moderating influence in the region in addition to meeting with U.S. diplomatic and military leaders.

 

Thursday, July 4: Kabul, Afghanistan

Met with Virginians from all service branches as well as civilians and contractors in Kabul on July 4th. Met with U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces-Afghanistan, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley, Deputy Commanding General, United States Forces – Afghanistan.

 

Friday, July 5: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Met with deployed Virginians at Al Dhafra Air Base who serve operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan and toured the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing – an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and aerial refueling hub for Central Command Operations. Also met with Dr. Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and discussed areas of mutual interest from economic to military partnerships, to the developing situations in Egypt and Turkey.

 

Saturday, July 6: Ramstein Air Base, Germany

Met with Wounded Warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and leadership from United States Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, a major command of the Air Force, which serves as the Air Component for US European Command and US Africa Command. Also discussed sequester impact effects on operations overseas – 2.5 of the 6 fighter squadrons have been grounded, and one has no combat mission ready pilots.

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