By Congressman Michael Turner (OH-03)
Recently, I traveled to Germany, India, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel on a Congressional Delegation led by Ohio’s Senior U.S. Senator George Voinovich. This official travel is an invaluable opportunity for Members of Congress to meet with world leaders and discuss issues that are central to America’s security and economic growth. These Congressional Delegations also give us a chance to learn about and improve the perception of America around the world.
In Germany, our first stop abroad, our group was met with tragic and unfortunate news. We learned that former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. Prior to the assassination, our group had been scheduled to stop in Pakistan that week for a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf. Unfortunately, the death of the much beloved former Prime Minister, and turmoil which has ensnarled the nation since, precluded us from traveling to Pakistan
I was greatly saddened to learn of former Prime Minister Bhutto’s assassination. Becoming the first democratically elected female head of state of an Islamic nation like Pakistan is a monumental achievement. Though the circumstances surrounding her death have destabilized the region, I am hopeful that the Pakistani people will move past this period of violence and into a stable and peaceful democracy.
Our group then traveled to India where we met the Indian Prime Minister. During this meeting, we talked about the domestic politics of India and about the often difficult relationship between India and Pakistan. Particularly in the wake of the Bhutto assassination, it will be important for both of these nuclear nations to remain calm and make progress in their dialogue.
Our next stop was in Cairo, Egypt where our Congressional Delegation met with the Egyptian Minster of Defense and the Foreign Minister. During these meetings, we discussed U.S. Foreign aid to Egypt, security along their borders, and the relationship between Egypt and Israel. Of particular concern, weapons are being smuggled from Egypt to Gaza by a system of underground tunnels. During our conversation, I expressed my belief that the diplomatic relationship between Egypt and Israel is vital to lasting stability in the Middle East and that curbing the smuggling of weapons will require the cooperation of all the leaders in the region.
The Congressional Delegation then visited Jordan where we met with the Jordanian Prime Minister. During the meeting, we discussed the current climate in the Middle East between Hamas and Hezbollah, Jordan’s role in controlling the Gaza border, and on Jordan’s role in training Iraqi forces.
Finally, we traveled to Israel, where we met with officials from both the Israeli government and from the Palestinian Authority. During this visit, we met with Israel’s Foreign Minister as well as President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. We also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki. We repeated our concern for cooperation among the leaders in the region to end the underground tunnel weapons smuggling between Gaza and Egypt.
After our meetings, we visited the Israeli town of Sderot. This town is directly on the border of Israel and Gaza so it is under daily rocket fire from Hamas. Later that day, after our group had already left, a homemade rocket hit the village. Though no one was hurt, this was a sad reminder of how much work it will take to someday end the conflict in the Middle East.
Over the course of the Congressional Delegation, we traveled approximately 15,000 miles and spent nearly 39 hours airborne. Our delegation learned a great deal as our world continued to seek peace in the Middle East.
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