02.13.09

Whitehouse Joins Congressional Trip to Israel, Syria

Delegation Will Also Attend OSCE Meeting in Vienna, Austria

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will leave this evening for an official congressional delegation visit to Israel, Syria, and Austria from February 13-21. While overseas, Whitehouse will meet with U.S. and foreign leaders and attend the 8th Annual Winter Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)'s Parliamentary Assembly.

"For decades, the conflict in the Middle East has been among America's most difficult foreign policy challenges," said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "I'm encouraged that President Obama has named former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, an enormously skilled and experienced diplomat, as Secretary of State Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East. I look forward to working with him and with the Obama Administration to reaffirm our commitment to achieving a viable and independent Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel."

The trip will be led by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), who chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and will include Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Tom Udall (D-NM), Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), and Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI). Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) will join the delegation in Vienna.

While in Jerusalem, the delegation plans to meet with leaders of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. In addition, the delegation will visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. The delegation will arrive just days after the February 10 general elections to the Israeli Knesset and following a visit by George Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East. The focus of the trip will be on U.S-Israeli bilateral relations, including cooperation in addressing military and security issues, as well as the political and social situation in the Palestinian Authority.

The delegation will then travel to Damascus, Syria, where they plan to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Mualem. In addition, they will visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) facility in Damascus to assess the situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria. The focus of the trip will be on U.S.-Syrian bilateral relations, the state of the peace process and regional issues.

At the OSCE Winter Meeting in Vienna, the delegation will discuss trends and events within the OSCE region and beyond, with a particular focus on proposals for a new European security architecture. The delegation will also receive briefings by high-level OSCE officials on the diplomatic response to recent events in the OSCE region, including the status of the OSCE Mission in Georgia.

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