CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, returned today from a week-long trip (August 10-17) to the Middle East where he visited with U.S. and foreign officials in Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. The trip focused on regional political and security issues important to the U.S., including the violence in Egypt, the conflict in Syria and the threat of sectarian violence and terrorism in the region. Corker will discuss his trip and other topics tomorrow (Sunday) on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” For local listings, click here.
Corker spent the first week of the Senate’s August recess in Middle Tennessee and will be making stops throughout Tennessee this coming week.
Corker’s trip to the Middle East revealed the significant way in which the recent expansion in violence threatens the region's security and America's national interest.
“The spillover of the sectarian conflict in Syria poses a real threat to Iraq, and the growing humanitarian crisis, including the growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons, increasingly threatens stability in countries like Jordan and Lebanon. The U.S. must work with regional partners to return stability to the region and prevent the spread of extremism by supporting moderate, stabilizing forces,” said Corker.
Arriving in Turkey on Sunday (August 10), Corker met with members of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, including opposition commander Brigadier General Salim Idriss. On Monday, Corker visited with U.S. service members operating the U.S. Patriot missile battery near the Turkish border with Syria. Later in the day, he visited a refugee camp on the Turkish border for the second time since the conflict began. At Kilis camp, Corker met with refugee leaders, camp administrators and a number of individual Syrian refugees.
“Turkey’s efforts to assist the thousands of Syrian refugees seeking safe haven in their country are admirable, and they are in a better position than most of the neighboring countries to handle the overflow,” said Corker. “The refugees there are frustrated by what they see as a lack of support from the international community for the opposition. Efforts to more fully support the Free Syrian Army are coalescing around General Idriss to a degree, but there is much more to do, especially in training and equipping vetted, moderate forces.”
On Tuesday, Corker traveled to Iraq for meetings in Baghdad with U.S. Ambassador Robert Stephen Beecroft, leaders from Iraq’s Christian minority, and Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayad. The next day, Wednesday, Corker met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Humam Hamoudi. In the Kurdish capital of Erbil, Corker met with former Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Saleh and Fouad Hussein, chief of staff for Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.
“The security situation in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly. The lack of an inclusive governance effort is creating internal tensions, and that, mixed with regional sectarian tensions flamed by the Syrian conflict, is a potent mix that is allowing al Qaeda to have a significant resurgence in the country. If left unaddressed, these destructive trends will continue to rapidly destabilize the country, and a United States foreign policy that does not recognize this reality will be very problematic for Iraq, for us, and for the region. This is a problem that can’t simply be wished away by the Obama administration,” said Corker.
In Jordan on Thursday, Corker had a series of meetings with top political and military leaders, including King Abdullah II, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, GID Director General Faisal Shobaki and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mishaal Zaben. On Friday, he concluded his trip with visits to the Za’atri refugee camp, his second since the Syrian conflict began, and the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center.
“Jordan is playing an outsized role in the region, and the burden of refugees into the country is taking a heavy toll. At all levels, Jordan is assisting in developing a coherent response to the crisis in Syria,” said Corker. “While U.S. civilian and military personnel in Jordan are focused on the stability of that nation and are improving our capability to assist the vetted, moderate opposition in Syria, I’m very concerned with the slow pace of decisions in Washington regarding implementation.”