Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to speak briefly about foreign travel which I undertook over the past recess, focusing principally on the Mideast and on Europe.
My group arrived in Jerusalem on December 26, late in the evening on Friday. The next day, the hostilities arose in Gaza. I had an occasion to discuss this matter with a number of officials in Israel and also with Prime Minister Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority.
As is well known from the news reports, the Israeli action was taken in response to shelling by Hamas on Israel over a protracted period of time. Israel's action was legal under international law, Article 51 of the United Nations charter which expressly recognizes the right of self-defense under circumstances where a nation is attacked. And that was the factual matter there. In speaking to Israeli President Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, the point was made that Israel was taking this action only as a last resort to protect Israeli citizens.
It is highly significant that the Palestinian Authority, which has had its differences with Hamas, has backed the Israeli position. We had a discussion with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad, who said that the Palestinian Authority was convinced that Israel had acted properly and that the Palestinian Authority would do what it could to maintain quiet within the Palestinian Authority's jurisdiction in the face of any demonstrations which might occur.
It is worth noting that Egypt has backed the Israeli action, noting the aggressive stand taken by Hamas, and Saudi Arabia, too, has noted Hamas's inappropriate conduct.
We visited in Vienna with Ambassador Schulte and discussed at some length the International Atomic Energy Agency efforts to conduct inspections on what is going on in Iran with respect to any efforts by Iran to create a nuclear weapon.
A year ago, I had an opportunity to meet with IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei. He was out of town when we were there. I had a conversation with him by telephone on the issue of the efforts by the IAEA to conduct the inspections and that at the moment Iran is not cooperating and, further, international action needs to be taken to be sure Iran does meet its obligations under international agreements and that there are adequate safeguards to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
When we were in Syria, Iran's activities on that subject were discussed with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad. On the Iranian subject, President Asad urged that action be taken to try to get the inspections, and that would be a more productive line than challenging whatever rights Iran had asserted.
In our discussions with President Asad, the subject of a potential Israel-Syria peace treaty was discussed. The Syrians have made it plain that they are interested in a return of the Golan Heights. Only Israel can decide for itself whether it is willing to give up the Golan with respect to whatever strategic advantage the Golan may have. Obviously, it is a different world strategically today than it was in 1967 when Israel captured the Golan Heights.
It is my view that there could be substantial advantages for Israel in terms of Syrian concessions in a number of directions to leave Lebanon as a sovereign nation without efforts to destabilize Lebanon but withdrawing any Syrian support from Hezbollah and also from Hamas. When we discussed with President Asad the issue of Hezbollah and Hamas, he said if the Palestinian issue could be resolved, those other matters would fall into place.
There is also the potential advantage of trying to move Syria away from the influence of Iran. That is not an easy matter. But if there were to be an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty--and I think that can happen only with the participation of the United States--the prospect would be present of improving that situation of trying to separate Syria from Iran.
In Brussels, we had a meeting with General Craddock, who is the NATO commander there. We discussed a variety of subjects, as described in a more extensive report that I will ask to have printed in the Record.
With respect to our discussions with General Craddock, the key point was the issue of what is going on in Afghanistan. General Craddock made the point that there cannot be a military victory in Afghanistan but the military can be successful in securing the situation, that there will have to be improvements in the Afghanistan Government in dealing with the people of Afghanistan. General Craddock commented that he thought it would be a protracted period of time where we would have to have substantial NATO forces, in addition to those provided by the United States, to find a resolution of the issues in Afghanistan.
I was accompanied on my trip by my legislative director, Chris Bradish, my military escort, Phil Skuta, and by Dr. Ronald Smith, all of whom did an excellent job. A very comprehensive trip report has been prepared by Mr. Bradish. I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record, as if stated in full on the floor, the trip report.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
Report on Foreign Travel
Mr. President, as is my custom, when I return from foreign travel, I file a report with the Senate.
From December 25, 2008 to January 5, 2009, I traveled to the United Kingdom, Israel, Syria, Austria, Belgium, Norway, and Iceland. I was accompanied by my wife, Joan, my Legislative Director, Chris Bradish, my military escort, Phil Skuta, Colonel, USMC, and Dr. Ronald Smith, Captain, USN.
I departed the United States on December 25th and made a brief stop in London en route to Israel. We arrived in Israel on the evening of December 26th. This was my twenty-sixth visit to Israel since joining the Senate in 1981. Almost exactly a year after my previous visit to Israel, the domestic political landscape had changed significantly. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tendered his resignation on September 21, 2008, and general elections are set for February 10, 2009. One of the major questions being posed to the major parties is how best to approach the peace process.
A 6-month truce between Israel and Hamas ended on December 19, 2008. United Nations data showed that fewer rockets were fired at Israeli towns in the initial few months following the onset of the truce on June 19, 2008. The New York Times reported on December 19 that, ``more than 300 rockets were fired into Israel in May , 10 to 20 were fired in July....... In August, 10 to 30 were fired, and in September, 5 to 10.'' However, as reported by The Washington Post on December 23, 2008, Israeli towns were faced with an increasing barrage of fire as the truce neared its end: ``[H]undreds of rockets and mortar shells.......have been fired at Israel in the past month.''
The day after my arrival, Israel launched air strikes on Gaza in response to the rocket attacks by Hamas.
The rockets launched from Gaza as well as those from Hezbollah pose a major threat to Israel's security. To counter this threat, I have long supported full funding for the Arrow Anti-Missile System, the David's Sling Weapon System, and the Counter Terrorism Technical Support Working Group. During my tenure, I have worked to secure more than 80 billion for Israel, to include $1.4 billion for the Arrow Anti-Missile System.
On December 28th, I had a working breakfast with the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham. It is worth noting that Ambassador Cunningham is a product of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Ambassador Cunningham's prior posts, notably at the United Nations, provided him a broad experience in dealing with many of the regional players. He briefed me on the situation in Gaza, the upcoming elections in Israel, Iran's influence in the region, and the prospects for peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinians.
Following our meeting we departed for Beit Hanassi to see President Shimon Peres. He updated me on the Gaza situation and stated, ``We didn't do it with great pleasure. We didn't have any choice.''
I asked if negotiations on a peace agreement could come to fruition with the Palestinian Authority with Hamas in the position it is in. Peres believed it was possible. We discussed the four outstanding issues that need to be addressed to achieve an agreement: security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem.
When asked about the prospect for an agreement with Syria, President Peres did not express enthusiasm, citing Syria's troubling alliance with Iran and the concern that Damascus may not be sufficiently interested in a peace agreement. He stated that Syria cannot have Lebanon and the Golan at the same time.
I asked the President about what can be done on the Iran front. His best advice was to keep the price of oil low as that will generate lower revenues for Tehran. Broader energy independence is critical. Peres stated, ``Kill the oil, kill your enemies ....... Oil produces pollution and craziness ....... don't shoot at mosquitoes, dry the swamp.'' Peres advised us not to deal with Tehran until after Iran's May elections.
I have pushed for greater consideration of the Russian proposal to enrich Iran's uranium. President Peres indicated that there is a broader opportunity for the U.S. to engage Russia. He indicated Russia is concerned about American's missile defense activities in Europe and regional hegemony. He suggested using missile defense as an avenue to turn the U.S.-Russian problem into cooperation against Iran.
Peres shared with me his views on future economic issues and stated there will be five great industries: energy, water, stem cells, homeland security and education. I asked what Israel hoped for in the new U.S. President. Peres replied that he wanted him to be a great President for the United States.
On the afternoon of December 28th, I met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. I asked Olmert where Israel and Syria stood on their proximity talks. He said they chose the Turks as mediators because they are good liaisons who are trusted by both sides. Olmert said there had been four rounds in which the issues to be discussed in a potential dialogue were presented such as borders, terrorism and Iran. He said of Syrian President Assad, ``I know what he wants from me and he knows what I want from him.''
He expressed disappointment that Syria did not provide clear signals that they were willing to acknowledge what Israel wanted. It was his view that Syria was waiting for a new U.S. President to assume office before seriously engaging. Nonetheless, he said he was committed to carrying out the process.
I asked the Prime Minister if Iran knows how dangerous it is for them to obtain a military nuclear capability. He replied, ``Iran feels the weakness of America.'' He suggested the U.S. apply more pressure on Iran by ending business and commerce exchanges, particularly from the European Union. Olmert believes that there are plenty of options between the extremes of doing nothing and utilizing military force. On the question of when to engage Tehran, Olmert's view differed from Peres': ``The sooner the better.''
Following my meeting with the Prime Minister, I traveled to our consul general's residence for a briefing on Israeli-Palestinian relations and an update on the Gaza situation. The recent reports indicated there were 280 dead and 600 injured--a figure that would climb. He stated there were demonstrations across the Arab world and clashes in Hebron and the West Bank.
We discussed concerns over the potential for a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The consul general informed me that Israel had provided 40 truckloads of humanitarian aid but a cessation of attacks did not appear imminent. We discussed the financing of Gazans who rely on the UN, Palestinian Authority salaries and Hamas to survive.
The consul general told us that the economy in the West Bank has improved under the direction of Salam Fayyad 18 months ago. Payrolls are being met and tourism is getting better due to a spillover from increased tourism in Israel.
We were then joined by Prime Minister Fayyad. I asked about the prospects for peace with Israel. The PM indicated that the peace process should be pursued and while it has not happened as quickly as some would like, the Bush Administration deserves credit for some of their efforts.
He stated that U.S. support of the Palestinian Authority has had a good impact in terms of helping them govern and provide services and draw support away from Hamas. I pressed him on how the money was being spent and was told it was going toward economic development projects and infrastructure. As a result of the PA's success in controlling expenditures and obtaining more revenue, they anticipate lowering their dependence on foreign assistance by 35 percent. He cited some of the efforts: reducing their payroll from 190,000 to 150,000; improving revenue collections such as utility bills; and installing prepaid meters, of which he noted that the city of Janin is using 100 percent prepaid meters.
He indicated that the private sector needs to be enhanced, but that it would only be possible when more mobility is permitted in the West Bank. Fayyad stated that the Palestinian Authority must be seen as competent and able to provide for their people.
On Gaza, Fayyad indicated that the sentiment is against Hamas because they know this would happen if they continued to launch rockets into Israel. Fayyad said he was upbeat about the prospects for improving life and the situation for Palestinians.
The Prime Minister told me that it is very important to deal with Syria and that it cannot be ignored if one is looking for tranquility in the region. We discussed how Syria hosts terrorist entities and acts as a conduit for Hezbollah. He stated that this is a problem and that Iran was also a problem for the region. He believes that Israel will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability. He suggested engaging the Russians to make them a real partner in engaging Iran--something President Shimon Peres told me earlier in the day. He said it is not effective for the U.S. to yell at Iran. However, if others such as Russia started getting Iran's attention, it may change Tehran's calculus.
On December 29th I traveled to the Knesset to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu. Joining us in the meeting was Yural Steinitz, a member of the defense and foreign affairs committee, and Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister.
On Hamas, Netanyahu stated it would be very difficult to peacefully engage them as their goal is to see Israel destroyed. I asked what could be done to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. He replied that Gaza should not host terrorists. He further stated that both Abu Mazen and President Mubarak said the Israeli action was the responsibility of Hamas.
On Syria, Netanyahu reminded me of when I carried a message from him to President Assad in 1996. There was a concern at the time about troop amassments on the border. I was able to carry the message and according to Netanyahu and Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem, may have helped to prevent a military conflict. He expressed doubt about a potential deal with Syria, citing the difficulty of engaging them while they play host to terrorist entities and do not make any effort to halt transshipment of fighters and weapons through their territory.
With regard to the current situation with Iran, the group suggested a review of what happened with Libya. They stated it was not just sanctions or diplomacy, but rather the Libyan calculus that the U.S. and UK would attack. The threat of force, according to them, was the critical factor. Their conclusion was clear: Iran will only give up its nuclear weapons aspirations if the threat of military force is severe enough.
Following my meeting at the Knesset we departed for Tel Aviv for our flight to Syria.
We arrived in Damascus on the night of December 29th and were met by Charge d'Affaires Maura Connelly. This was my 18th visit to Syria.
On December 30th, I received a briefing from Charge Connelly prior to the day's meetings. Later that morning, we traveled to President Assad's palace.
President Assad began the meeting by expressing his concern with the situation in Gaza. I asked him if Hamas would ever change its policy or position towards Israel and Jews. Assad indicated that Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas who is located in Damascus, has said his group would accept the 1967 borders and that constituted recognition. Assad believes that Hamas has changed, that Mashaal is a moderate within Hamas and the best way to resolve border issues is for the Palestinians to have a referendum.
I told President Assad that Prime Minister Olmert had said he would like to see the time come when he could stay at the Four Seasons in Damascus. Assad responded that going back to the pre-1967 border is the key Olmert needs to access such a hotel room and that, ``the Golan is everything for us ..... in every bargain, I put Golan first.''
In May 2008, Israel and Syria announced indirect peace negotiations through Turkish mediators. According to a June 25, 2008 article by David Ignatius in The Washington Post, ``The channel opened in the fall of 2006, just after the summer war in Lebanon that had made both Damascus and Tel Aviv nervous about the destabilizing role of Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in Lebanon.'' I was first told about the secret talks in 2007 by officials in the region.
He shared with me the Syrian view on the proximity talks with Israel that have been facilitated by Turkey. He said that they were still at the stage of trying to get a set of principles in place which would allow for discussions but that the violence in Gaza would place this effort on hold.
I expressed my concern about Syria's involvement in Lebanon, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the statements made by President Ahmadinejad regarding his desire to wipe Israel off the map and the transshipment of weapons through Syria to terrorist entities. I told Assad that Damascus has a role in these issues and has the opportunity to act positively.
On Lebanon, Assad said they had a positive role in supporting the formation and functioning of a government. According to an October 15, 2008 PBS report, ``In August , Lebanese President Michel Suleiman made an official visit to Damascus, where he and Assad agreed to solidify ties and demarcate their contentious border.'' We discussed the October 15, 2008 agreement signed by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem and his Lebanese counterpart, Fawzi Salloukh, which formalized diplomatic ties between Syria and Lebanon for the first time since the two nations gained independence, Lebanon in 1943 and Syria in 1946. Syria has pledged to provide an ambassador by the end of 2008, however one had not yet been sent. He stated that their mission in Lebanon had been established and staffed with diplomats and that they are deciding on whom to send to lead the embassy.
On Hamas and Hezbollah, Assad suggested that a comprehensive peace would resolve the issues associated with these organizations. Despite reports to the contrary, Assad stated that Syria is not being used to funnel weapons to these groups.
On Iran, the President said that Iran is an influential player in the region and one that has supported his efforts. This, combined with no support from the West, leaves him no option but to have positive relations with Tehran. However, he did indicate that Syria has told Iran that it does not support a military nuclear program in Iran should one be active.
On the nuclear question, I expressed my concern that the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, has not had sufficient access to Iran and Syria. He responded by saying that Iran is ready for inspectors but that the approach taken to engage Iran is viewed a political game. He indicated Iran is open to inspections but the west must recognize Iran's right to enrich. Assad believed the way to resolve this issue is through some type of broad package. Nonetheless, you cannot discuss the right to enrich with Iran, but you can discuss monitoring.
After indicating that a nuclear Iran would not be tolerable and that I would like to see this matter resolved diplomatically, Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem told President Assad of my work during the 1990s to prevent and resolve conflict between Israel and Syria.
I again brought up the fate of the missing Israeli soldiers: Gilad Shalit, Guy Hever and Ron Arad. I reiterated my interest in seeing President Assad work to help secure the release of Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since June 25, 2006, and in determining the fate of Guy Hever, the Israeli soldier who disappeared from the Golan Heights in August 1997, and Ron Arad, the Israeli Air Force weapons systems officer whose plane went down in 1986. In December 2007, I asked President Assad for his assistance in securing the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, two Israeli soldiers who were captured by Hezbollah in July 2006. Regrettably, their bodies were returned to their families in July 2008.
As I told Gilad Shalit's father in a meeting in Washington this past summer, I remain committed to doing whatever I can to help secure the return of captured Israeli soldiers or, where they have perished, to obtain their remains. I have also requested the assistance of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
I also followed up numerous letters I had written to Assad requesting he allow a prayer to be said over the grave of Eli Cohen. He rejected the idea, claiming it would not be possible given that Cohen was hanged as a spy and that Israel remained a Syrian enemy.
Following my meeting with the president, I was scheduled to meet with various social and civic leaders. In prior visits, and as recently as last year, I had the opportunity to meet with these leaders. However, I was not able to during this visit as it has become increasingly difficult for Syrians to meet with westerners for fear of retaliation. It is troubling that one year ago, I was able to have a dinner with Syrian citizens and have a meeting with Riad Seif, and twelve months later, Seif is in jail and others did not feel comfortable meeting with me.
On the issue of political prisoners, it was apparent that there had been an even greater crackdown. In October, Syria sentenced 12 prominent `dissidents' to 2 1/2 years for calling for democratic reforms and an end to the Baath Party's monopoly on power. The so-called dissidents are part of the Damascus Declaration National Council and are among Syria's leading intellectuals and opposition figures.
According to the U.S. State Department's March 2008 report on Syria's human rights practices: ``Although the number of political prisoners and detainees remained difficult to determine due to a continuing lack of official government information, various local human rights groups estimated during the year that a total of somewhere between approximately 1,500 and 3,000 current political prisoners, including accused Islamists, remained in detention. Authorities refused to divulge information regarding numbers or names of people in detention on political or security-related charges.''
Since 2006 the government has tried some new political detainees in criminal court, and once convicted on political or security related charges, they are treated like common prisoners. The government did not permit regular access to political prisoners or detainees by local or international humanitarian organizations. Human rights groups reported that many political prisoners serving long-term sentences remained in prison after the expiration of their sentences.
Following my meeting with the President, Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem hosted me for a working lunch. The Foreign Minister discussed the situation in Gaza as he was preparing to depart the following day for a meeting of Arab countries. He indicated that 44 children and 80 women had been killed in Gaza as a result of Israel's action.
I raised the issue of foreign fighters traversing through Syria. The Foreign Minister said that Syria used to cooperate with the United States but that after the Hariri assassination, and the souring of relations that resulted, cooperation ceased. Muallem asked why Syria should cooperate with the U.S. when the U.S. sanctions Syria. He indicated that Syria and Iraq have cooperated and claimed that Syria had stopped 1,200 fighters.
I pressed the Minister on the arrests of what are referred to as ``dissidents.'' He indicated that they had contacts with Syria's enemies and provoking action against the regime.
Muallem indicated he had just met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to discuss a possible ceasefire and if Hamas would stop rocket attacks should Israel agree to a cessation of bombing. He said he had also been in contact with EU foreign ministers on the matter. He indicated that Hamas' morale is high given the 2006 war with Hezbollah, but that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are willing to consider a ceasefire.
I pressed him on the possibility of a peace agreement with Israel. He expressed, as he has in the past, that the issues on both sides are understood. However, the bombing in Gaza has made it so Syria ``cannot jump to peace with Israel.'' I asked what could be done to move the process forward. He replied that each side must respect the interests of one another and that dialogue is needed.
On Iran, Muallem stated that Iran has the right to enrich, and that the world needs to acknowledge that, but that Syria does not approve of Iran having a nuclear weapon. He stated that the U.S. missed opportunities when Rafsanjani and Khatami were in power.
We departed Damascus on December 31st for Vienna, Austria. The United States has three missions in Vienna: the bilateral mission to the Republic of Austria, the mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the mission to the United Nations. During my stop in Vienna, I called on all three U.S. Ambassadors stationed in Vienna.
After arriving in Vienna, Ambassador David Girard-diCarlo hosted me for dinner. He briefed me on the mission's dealings with the Austrian government and some of the views and issues of broader Europe. We discussed how the financial crises has impacted Europe as well as the United States. I shared with Ambassador Girard-diCarlo my recent trip to Damascus and Israel and efforts to have the United States more aggressively engage in the peace process in the region.
I have known Ambassador Girard-diCarlo for many years. David is a graduate of St. Joseph's University and Villanova University School of Law. He served at Blank Rome LLP for 16 years as managing partner and CEO prior to becoming chairman in 2000, and he also served as chairman and CEO of Blank Rome Government Relations LLC, headquartered in Washington, DC.
Ambassador Girard-diCarlo was Pennsylvania Governor Richard L. Thornburgh's appointee to the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, SEPTA, from 1979-1982 and served as its chairman of the board. In 1981, he was elected as chairman of the American Public Transit Association, APTA, for a 1-year term. Ambassador Girard-diCarlo was appointed by former President George Bush in 1990 to serve as a member of the board of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, AMTRAK, a position he held until 1993.
In addition to Ambassador Girard-diCarlo's professional responsibilities, his experience over the past 3 decades involved his active participation in the business and cultural organizations within the communities in which he lived and worked. He served in leadership positions at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Academy of Music, the Walnut Street Theatre, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Arizona Heart Foundation--to mention a few. In 1999, he received the Judge Learned Hand Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee. He served on the board of Villanova University School of Law, from which he received the Gerald Abraham Award for Distinguished Service in 2003. Also in 2003, Pope John Paul II conferred upon him the Pontifical Honor of Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great for his work with Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools.
Established as an independent organization under the United Nations in 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency represents the realization of President Dwight Eisenhower's ``Atoms for Peace'' speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 1953. President Eisenhower proposed the creation of an international body to control and promote the use of atomic energy. Today, the IAEA is at the center of the ongoing standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.
On January 1, 2008, I met with Ambassador Schulte, the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other international organizations in Vienna.
Ambassador Schulte updated me on the IAEA's efforts on Iran and their reported pursuit of a military nuclear capability. He expressed the mission's desire to have Iran respond to directives provided by both the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA to suspend enrichment activities and allow inspections.
We discussed how Iran's failure to declare its facility at Natanz has created a significant trust deficit not only in the United States, but internationally. The facility, combined with the revelation that Iran had outside assistance from the A.Q. Khan network, which it previously denied, has compounded the problem. Ambassador Schulte stated that by violating the Non Proliferation Treaty, Iran has given up its rights under the treaty. He further stated that Iran's claims that their efforts are geared towards civilian purposes do not make sense from an economic or infrastructure capability perspective.
He was very interested in my recent stop in Damascus and my dialogue with Syrian officials during my tenure. Ambassador Schulte briefed me on the IAEA's response after the reported attack on Syrian infrastructure. He said Syria still denies the facility was of a nuclear nature, but that the IAEA inspectors believe it was. He expressed concern that the international community must ensure that Syria, and other actors, know that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and not forgotten. Ambassador Schulte revealed that Syria's tactics in responding to the IAEA have a stark resemblance to the response Iran has shown.
On the evening of January 1st, I spoke with IAEA Director General Mohammed El-Baradei, who I visited last year in Vienna. He updated me on his efforts on Iran and briefed me on the situation vis-a 2-vis Syria. We discussed how the U.S. and the International Community may better address Iran and resolve the nuclear issue.
While in Vienna, I hosted a meeting with Ambassador Julie Finley, the U.S. representative to the OSCE.
The OSCE is a major forum for issues of peace, security and human rights in Europe and Central Asia. A legacy of the historic 1975 Helsinki accords, it is the only fully inclusive trans-Atlantic/European/Eurasian political organization. Every state from Andorra to Kyrgyzstan is represented among its 56 participating States. Over more than 30 years, commitments to democracy, rule of law, human rights, tolerance, pluralism and media freedoms were hammered out at the OSCE and its predecessor mechanisms--and agreed to by all the participating states.
Ambassador Finley briefed me on her view of the Georgian-Russian conflict earlier this year. She indicated that the OSCE has had a mission in the region since 1992 to aid civil society, enhance education and address environmental issues.
Ambassador Finley and I discussed the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Russia and how organizations like the OSCE can better be used to address regional and international matters. As relations between the U.S. and Russia are increasingly strained, Ambassador Finley pointed out that the OSCE could be a forum to positively engage Russia as this is the only regional security organization in which Russia is a full and equal member.
We discussed U.S. policy more broadly and how diplomacy could be enhanced to pursue positive outcomes. Ambassador Finley confirmed my belief that dialogue is critical to addressing the challenges we face.
We departed Austria the following morning for Belgium.
We landed in Brussels, Belgium on January 2nd. I hosted a meeting with Charge Kate Byrnes and Defense Advisor Randy Hoag. They briefed me on the major issues we are working with NATO: Afghanistan, reinvigorating the alliance, dealing with Georgia and Ukraine, the Balkans and emerging security threats such as cyber attacks and piracy.
Burden-sharing remains a concern as it was when I began visiting NATO in the 1980s. During my first visit to NATO in 1981, 3 percent GDP spending on defense was the goal for all member countries. Today, only five nations spend more than 2 percent: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Greece and Turkey. This is a concern not only from the standpoint of the Alliance's health and ability to address issues, but also from the perspective that some are carrying more weight than others.
The only time Article V has been invoked was following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. NATO declared that this attack was indeed an attack on the alliance. Today, there are currently 70,000 troops in Afghanistan--51,000 are part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF. The U.S. provides 20,000 to ISAF. There are concerns that some NATO members are only providing civil or peacekeeping support for Afghanistan and are limiting what their militaries are permitted to do.
We discussed the NATO-Russia relationship with a focus on how expansion and missile defense impact the relationship between NATO and Russia as well as the U.S. and Russia. I was told that some member countries view missile defense as provocative and as the alliance progresses that is something that will have to be considered. I was briefed on NATO missile defense as well as U.S. missile defense in Europe and the future of missile defense on the continent.
I was told that NATO still has an open door policy, codified in Article X of the charter, which states a nation may appeal for membership provided it meets the requirements and shares NATO values. I was briefed on the expansion opportunities with Albania and Croatia and the potential for nations such as Georgia, Serbia, Macedonia and Ukraine to join the alliance. There is considerable fatigue in Europe over expansion--both at the NATO and EU level. While NATO has 26 members and the EU has 27, only 18 members are party to both structures. There are some EU countries which, while not party to NATO, do support the alliance and its efforts--namely Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Austria.
We then had the opportunity to discuss the U.S.-Belgian bilateral relationship with Robert Kiene, our First Secretary to the mission. He said the relationship has improved since 2003 when the U.S. took military action against Iraq.
When we left Washington, D.C., Yves Leterme was the Prime Minister. When we landed in Belgium it was Herman Van Rompuy. On our day of arrival, Van Rompuy received backing from the parliament by a vote of 88 to 45. Belgium like so many other nations is facing an economic crisis to include recession and bank disintegration.
Mr. Kiene discussed the recent political changes that occurred in Belgium. He informed us that Belgium, while under the 2 percent GDP spending NATO goal, is very keen on enhancing their ability to contribute to the alliance. We discussed how Section 1206 ``Global Train and Equip'' funds could be used to reward and encourage Belgium as well as enhance forces outside NATO.
Belgium played a key role in helping to obtain an EU-wide agreement on arrest warrants and in facilitating extradition of terrorist suspects. A Brussels trial of al-Qaeda-related defendants ended in September 2003 with sentences for 18 of the 23 accused, with another 2004 terrorist-related trial resulting in eight more guilty verdicts. Belgium operates within UN and EU frameworks concerning the freezing of terrorist assets, but has yet to develop a domestic legal framework to act independently. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Belgium contributed a navy frigate in the Mediterranean, Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) crews for surveillance flights over the United States, as well as aircraft for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Since 2002, Belgium has contributed ground troops to the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, the UN Security council sanctioned peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. Belgium currently has 420 troops assigned to the ISAF.
Mr. Kiene discussed the efforts of the Belgian government to combat terrorism. On December 11, 2008, Belgian authorities arrested 14 people suspected of Al Qaeda links. The following day, six of the individuals were charged with membership in a terrorist group. The remaining eight were released due to insufficient evidence. As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, ``According to Belgian federal officials, at least some of the detained suspects had traveled to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for training and were said to have been affiliated with ``important people'' in Al Qaeda.'' According to a December 12, 2008 Associated Press article, the six charged included one who may have been plotting a suicide attack. While Belgium faced with terrorism issues at home, it is also contributing to NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
On the afternoon of January 2nd, I hosted General Craddock, Commander of the United States European Command. We discussed Afghanistan, the NATO-Russian dynamic, NATO expansion, the EU-NATO relationship, Kosovo, AFRICOM, and missile defense, among other topics.
General Craddock reported that the government and civil society in Afghanistan have not come along fast enough to support and rule the people of Afghanistan. He briefed me on the challenges, from criminal to insurgency to corruption, faced in the various regions of Afghanistan. We discussed how the money from narcotics are fueling those opposed to the U.S. and coalition forces. General Craddock cited a UN report which indicates as much as $500 million in revenue from the drug trade is supporting those opposed to our objectives.
General Craddock confirmed the reports that fighters are moving back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the FATA region in Pakistan is hosting our enemies. General Craddock indicated that if tensions between India and Pakistan flare up, especially as a result of the recent bombing, Pakistan may pull resources from their Western border to engage India to the east. He estimates that Pakistan would need 50,000-100,000 additional troops on their western border to improve the ability to engage enemies in the FATA region. Further, he stated that whatever forces Pakistan uses in the west, they must remain there and hold the territory and prevent it from being re-ceded to combatants.
We discussed the proposal of an additional 20,000 troops being deployed to support efforts in Afghanistan, but General Craddock indicated that these forces are contingent upon forces being drawn down in Iraq. This is also true for allies, such as the UK, who may be adding troops to Afghanistan.
General Craddock made it clear that the military cannot ``win'' Afghanistan. Rather, it can provide the right security conditions for a civil government to stand up. The government in Afghanistan needs to remove corruption, establish reliable police forces capable of providing public safety, create jobs and provide services such as clean drinking water. He predicted that a presence will be needed in Afghanistan for the next 30-40 years.
On Iran, General Craddock stated that Iran does not want to see the Taliban come back to power, but that they do desire the U.S. to remain tied down in the region. Iran's eastern border with Afghanistan remains a major transshipment point for drugs, weapons and oil.
General Craddock is dual hatted in Brussels, as he heads NATO and the U.S. European Command. On the latter, he presented three challenges moving forward: (1) Convincing allies to better assist and engage in regional and international problems; (2) define a national strategy vis-a 2-vis Russia; and (3) resolve European missile defense issues.
On January 3rd, we arrive in Oslo, Norway. The last time I visited Norway was in 1994 during a meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly. This time, I met with representatives from our mission, Deputy Chief of Mission Kevin Johnson and defense attaché Don Kepley.
I was briefed on the U.S.-Norwegian relationship and some of the difficulties we have had this decade over foreign policy disputes, such as Iraq and our approach to Afghanistan. I was briefed on the status of Norway's decision to buy Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the current political situation in the country. Norway, like the U.S., has a significant global presence and has a history of being active on many foreign policy fronts from Middle East peace to Sri Lanka.
Norway is a member of NATO and is contributing to the mission in Afghanistan. They currently have 500 troops deployed which, while not large by number, is significant given their population. In addition to military support, Norway has contributed senior diplomats and significant aid to assist in the building of Afghanistan.
We discussed the Norwegian Government's plans to fight the global economic crisis. While its large sovereign wealth fund lost a significant amount of money in the stock market, especially after the fall of Lehman Brothers, Norway is expected to do better than other Nordic and European nations during the economic downturn. Norway, which the CIA estimates has the world's 21st largest oil reserves, will tap into some of its saved oil wealth to provide the country with an economic stimulus. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said on December 19, 2008 that the stimulus package, ``will include an ever greater increase in funding for public works and construction, and maintenance.''
On the day of my arrival, a protest of an estimated 1,000 Norwegians was occurring in front of Parliament and the Israeli embassy. The protestors, who had a similar gathering last week, were expressing their opposition to Israel's actions in Gaza. While Norway was long a strong ally of Israel, the bilateral relationship has soured since the Oslo Accords.
The following morning I met with Benson Whitney, the U.S. Ambassador to Norway. We discussed our bilateral relationship, U.S. foreign policy, and our bilateral relationship with Russia and its impact globally.
Following the meeting we departed for Iceland.
On January 4, 2009, we arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, where we were met by Neil Klopfenstein, our Deputy Chief of Mission.
The following morning I met with Prime Minister Geir Haarde. Prime Minister Haarde graduated from Brandeis University and earned two master's degrees from Johns Hopkins University. We discussed a broad range of topics: Energy; the recent financial crisis and its impacts on the U.S. and Iceland; the situation in Afghanistan; and our relations with Russia.
Following the collapse of Iceland's three main banks in October 2008, Iceland was cast into financial turmoil. A December 13, 2008 article in The Economist makes clear the magnitude of the problem: ``[T]he scale of what confronts ..... Icelanders is only just becoming clear. According to the [International Monetary Fund], the failure of the banks may cost taxpayers more than 80 percent of GDP. Relative to the economy's size, that would be about 20 times what the Swedish Government paid to rescue its banks in the early 1990s. It would be several times the cost of Japan's banking crisis a decade ago.'' According to the IMF, Iceland's GDP is expected to contract by nearly 10 percent in calendar year 2009.
The Prime Minister was practical in terms of the outlook for 2009 but was optimistic that Iceland would see a turnaround in 2010. He indicated that Iceland has agreed to financing from the International Monetary Fund. The Prime Minister and I shared what each of our respective countries were looking to do in the form of economic stimulus.
Prime Minister Haarde thanked me for my work on the judiciary committee and our efforts to ensure businessmen have visas which permit them the freedom to work and meet in the United States. Citing his personal experience during his 6 years as a student in the United States, Prime Minister Haarde asked that we do more to ensure those who wish to study in the U.S. have the opportunity. I concurred and feel that it is in our interest to have foreigners, and potential future foreign leaders, spend time and be educated in the United States.
We returned to the United States on January 5, 2009.
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I know Senator Coburn is near the floor and should be appearing shortly. But until he does, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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