Entries in Middle East (15)


Rubio Stops in Jordan During Trip to Middle East

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is on a tour of the Middle East this week, which will include a stop in Israel.

Rubio met Monday with King Abdullah II in Jordan along with other members of the Jordanian government to talk about the Syrian war and the economic and security cooperation between the United States and Jordan.  Rubio also met with former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected to Jordan last year.  This marked Rubio’s first-ever trip to Jordan.

The Florida senator, who is accompanied on the trip by his wife Jeanette, will make his second trip to Israel at the end of the week, when he will meet with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“America’s friendship with Israel is a truly special one, and we must continue to do all we can to support this beacon of democracy, religious freedom and free enterprise in the heart of an unstable region,” Rubio said in a post on his website over the weekend. “As Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, we must continue to apply pressure through every possible means in order to prevent a nuclear Iran. And I look forward to assessing the impact American security assistance is having and discussing the importance of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and how we can maintain it during this time of great uncertainty and tumult in Egypt.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Andrew W.K. Nixed By State Dept. as Cultural Ambassador

State Department photo/ Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- Singer, rocker, free-form motivational speaker, and general party dude Andrew W.K. caused a stir in the music world by claiming the U.S. State Department had made him a cultural ambassador to the Middle East.

Unfortunately for rockers and partiers worldwide, it won’t be happening.

W.K., whose given name is Andrew Wilkes-Krier, posted to his website announcing the State Department had invited him to travel to Bahrain in December to “promot[e] partying and world peace”:

The US Department of State in partnership with the US Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, has invited Andrew to visit the Middle East to promote partying and positive power. In the tradition of the American Jazz Ambassadors who traveled the world in the mid 20th century as examples of American culture and spirit, Andrew has been invited by the State Department to travel to the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain and share his music and partying with the people there. Andrew will begin his journey sometime in December, 2012 and will visit elementary schools, the University of Bahrain, music venues, and more, all while promoting partying and world peace.

Andrew says: “This is a tremendous invitation. I’m very thankful to the Department of State for giving me the opportunity to visit a place I’ve never been before. And I feel very privileged and humbled by the chance to represent the United States of America and show the good people of Bahrain the power of positive partying. I can hardly wait for this adventure!”

But a State Department spokeswoman on Monday called the plans a “mistake.”

“We had a Bahraini entity that approached the embassy about co-sponsoring a visit by this guy, who I take it is pretty popular there in Bahrain. That was initially approved, and then when more senior management at the embassy took a look at this, the conclusion was that this was not an appropriate use of U.S. government funds,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a briefing.

“I think the conclusion was when they looked at the body of his work that we didn’t need to be part of this invitation,” Nuland said. “There may have been some preliminary conversations with him. But he is not going to be going to Bahrain on the U.S. government’s dime.”

Andrew W.K. made a name for himself with the 2001 album I Get Wet, which featured metal-inspired pop-rock songs almost exclusively about partying. W.K. later hosted a show on MTV2 in which he received letters from troubled fans and attempted to help with their problems. He currently hosts the Cartoon Network show Destroy Build Destroy.

W.K. has made a career of promoting the idea of partying, explaining it as a life ethos in free-form motivational speeches, where he stresses positive thinking and self-empowerment through partying and rock music.

The singer isn’t taking the State Department rebuke so well.

He posted an update to his website on Monday, including a promotional flyer for his Bahrain appearance bearing red, block letters reading “CANCELED BY THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT.” Read Andrew W.K.’s update:

BREAKING NEWS: After a year of planning and development, the US State Department has unexpectedly canceled their plans for Andrew’s trip to the Middle East this week, after changing their minds and deciding that it was “a mistake and not appropriate.” More information and a statement from Andrew, coming soon.

The singer also tweeted: “They can cancel our party in the Middle East, but they can never cancel the party in our hearts. #StayPositiveStayParty.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Romney Says It’s ‘Time to Change Course’ in Mideast

JIM WATSON/AFP/GettyImages(LEXINGTON, Va.) -- Mitt Romney Monday painted a dismal picture of President Obama’s foreign policy during his years in the White House as the Republican candidate toughened his criticism of the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack in Libya.

Romney said that as president he would ensure the Syrian rebels got the weapons they need and that he would take a firmer hand with Egypt and in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“It is time to change course in the Middle East,” said Romney.

[READ the transcript of Romney's speech on foreign policy.]

The Republican presidential candidate took a hard line on the administration’s actions around the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in a terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, last month. The Romney campaign is hoping to capitalize on what they believe to be a mishandling by the administration to accurately pinpoint the reason for the attacks or to have prevented them in the first place.

“As the dust settles, as the murdered are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown worse, and what this calls on America to do,” Romney said Monday to a crowd filled with cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. “Unfortunately, this president’s policies have not been equal to our best examples of world leadership.  And nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East.”

Romney said the attacks on the Benghazi consulate and other embassies in recent weeks “should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East, a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself.”

The Obama administration initially said the Benghazi attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Muslim film, but eventually conceded it was a terror attack.

Romney said the attack was carried out by “terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”

On the evening the attack was first reported, Romney drew criticism for accusing the Obama administration of “sympathizing” with the attackers before all the details of the attacks were known. It was not yet known at the time that Stevens had been killed. Romney, as well as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, began receiving customary intelligence briefings organized by the Obama administration shortly thereafter, and Romney has so far been briefed twice.

Ahead of Monday’s speech, Romney advisers anticipated that it would be a chance for Romney to “fill in more details” with respect to his own plan, in Libya and elsewhere. The speech comes a week before the next presidential debate, which will focus partially on foreign affairs, and two weeks before the final debate, which will focus entirely on the subject.

Romney outlined some of his plans for other areas in the Middle East.

“It is time to change course in the Middle East,” said Romney. “That course should be organized around these bedrock principles:  America must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might. No friend of America will question our commitment to support them, no enemy that attacks America will question our resolve to defeat them… and no one anywhere, friend or foe, will doubt America’s capability to back up our words.”

“I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States,” Romney said. “I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy.”

He said those who receive aid from the U.S., including Egypt, “must meet the responsibilities of every decent modern government.”

It is those conditions on U.S. aid, Romney said Monday, that he will use to “urge the new government to represent all Egyptians."

“And we must persuade our friends and allies to place similar stipulations on their aid,” he said.

In Syria, Romney said, “I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets … It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.”

The Obama administration has balked at sending arms and has discouraged others from sending heavy weapons that could end up in the arms of Islamic militants.

Romney also renewed his call for U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan to be completed by the end of 2014, taking a swipe at President Obama in doing so.

“I will affirm that my duty is not to protect my political prospects, but to protect the security of the nation,” said Romney, who has long accused Obama’s withdrawal plans as being politically motivated.

Romney cast doubt on the ability to establish a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis in a surreptitiously filmed video shot at a fundraiser earlier this year, in which he called such a scenario “unthinkable,” but Monday Romney said he will “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”

“In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new president will bring the chance to begin anew,” Romney said Monday.

In a statement on the candidate’s speech, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said all Romney has offered on foreign policy is “bluster and platitudes.”

“If Mitt Romney wants to have a debate about foreign policy, we have a message for him: bring it on,” Smith said in a statement, going on to accuse him of “erratically” shifting positions on “every major foreign policy.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Romney: ‘No Way’ There Will Be Israeli-Palestinian Peace

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages(BEIRUT) -- Video footage published Monday of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser revealed the GOP nominee had little faith that a peaceful solution could  be found between Israelis and Palestinians, blaming the impasse on Palestinian unwillingness.

At the $50,000-a-plate May dinner in Florida, Romney can be heard saying in the video, “We kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen.”

Romney began his comments by saying he had “two perspectives” on the Middle East peace process, but in the video footage, published on the website of left-leaning Mother Jones magazine,  he seemed highly skeptical, if not downright dismissive, of the two-state solution he endorsed during a trip to Jerusalem in July.

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There’s just no way.’”  

Among the “thorny issues” Romney referred to were the security problems that would arise from an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, about how Iran could sneak weapons into the West Bank to target Israel if Israel did not militarily control the Jordan Valley border between Jordan and the West Bank, or the air traffic coming into the West Bank. He made no mention of the Gaza Strip as being part of a future “Palestinian nation.”   

“And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can,”" Romney said. “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.”

Moving on to his second perspective, Romney offered  the opinion of an unnamed former secretary of state who told him peace was possible.

“I said, ‘Really?’ And, you know, his answer was, ‘Yes, I think there’s some prospect.’ And I didn’t delve into it.”

Neither the Obama campaign nor the Democratic National Committee attacked Romney directly on the Middle East portion of the remarks, which came in answer to a supporter’s question about the “Palestinian problem.”

But the DNC sent the Mother Jones report around to reporters, highlighting the “kick the ball down the field” line.

“There is this one obvious truth: Peace will not be possible if the extreme elements of the Palestinian side refuse to come to the table for talks or to recognize Israel’s right to exist,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement Tuesday morning. “Gov. Romney believes that the path to a two-state solution is to ensure the security of Israel, and not to throw up any more barriers to the two sides engaging in direct negotiations.”

When Romney visited Jerusalem at the end of July, he told the Haaretz newspaper that he believed in a two-state solution.

“The question is not whether the people of the region believe that there should be a Palestinian state,” he said. “The question is if they believe there should be an Israeli state, a Jewish state.”

A top Palestinian official accused Romney of being racist after the GOP candidate appeared to argue at a fundraiser that the difference in GDP per capita between Israelis and Palestinians stemmed from culture.

“As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation [Israel], I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” he said.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the statement racist. “This man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”

The Romney campaign called the comments “grossly mischaracterized.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pelosi and Boehner Briefed on Middle East Unrest

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker John Boehner was set to hold his own news conference Thursday with reporters, but 15 minutes after he was scheduled to face the Capitol Hill press corps, a spokesman announced that the news conference was cancelled.

A senior aide close to the speaker later confirmed that he cancelled because an “Intel meeting ran too long.”

A senior Democratic aide confirmed that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attended the same briefing, although neither source would reveal who briefed the congressional leaders.

Officials from the National Counterterrorism Center also briefed members of the House Intelligence committee, while CIA director David Petraeus briefed the Senate Intelligence committee. A senior aide at the House Intelligence committee told ABC News that Petraeus is expected to brief members of the House committee Friday at a previously scheduled meeting.

At the end of her own news conference, Pelosi hinted that she had a meeting for which she could not be late.

“I have to go,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “We have some briefings that are coming up, and so I’m going to have to excuse myself.”

Before cutting her news conference short, Pelosi paid tribute to the victims in Libya, who she described as “American diplomats [who] served on the front lines of Libya’s quest for democracy, freedom and stability.”

“All members of Congress stand united in condemning this brazen, brazen attack, and we stand united condemning it in the strongest possible terms,” she said. “Their commitment to peace and security stand in stark contrast to those cowards who perpetrated this act.”

Meanwhile, when asked Wednesday whether he considered the Egyptian government an ally of the United States, President Obama balked, telling Telemundo, “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally but we don’t consider them an enemy.”

The White House worked to clarify those comments Thursday.

Pelosi was also noncommittal Thursday, telling reporters, “I don’t know about the word 'ally.' We’ll see.”

“Egypt is, I believe, the largest Muslim country in the world, that is a force in the Middle East, that is a country with whom we must have a good relationship. It’s important, again, for our national security interests and part of our national security interests involve the national security of Israel,” she said.

“But the fact is that we have an interest in Egypt’s success, and let’s hope that we can do that as allies.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Campaign Pressures Romney for Policy Specifics

Joe Raedle/Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Officials speaking for President Obama’s campaign today challenged Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to provide clarity and specifics about his foreign policy positions when the former governor travels this week to Europe and the Middle East.

“The bar really is whether or not Mitt Romney is finally ready to shed a little light on what appears to be the secrecy of his foreign policy plans,” campaign adviser and former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs declared on a conference call set up by the campaign.

Colin Kahl, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, said, “If Romney thinks it’s time to use military action against Iran and abandon diplomacy this early, I think he owes it to the American people to actually say so.”

Romney is scheduled to meet British officials in advance of attending the opening ceremonies Friday at the London Olympics, and then travel to Israel and Poland. His campaign officials have said the six-day journey is “to learn and to listen” rather than define specific policies. He is scheduled to deliver two speeches on policy while traveling.

“I don’t know how you give a major foreign policy speech and not give the policy details,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs reminded reporters on the campaign-sponsored conference call of the extensive foreign trip candidate Barack Obama took at this point in his first campaign for the White House, including stops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Western Europe.

Candidate Obama did not hold fundraising events during his trip four years ago, but Romney has fundraisers on his itinerary. When asked for a comparison, Gibbs suggested the Republican candidate’s trip “is almost entirely built around fundraising stops.”

A news release from the Romney campaign points out that hours after Sen. Obama’s address in Berlin, his campaign manager, David Plouffe, sent out a fundraising email asking supporters to watch a video of the speech and donate to the Democratic campaign.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama in New York City for UN General Assembly

The White House/Pete Souza(NEW YORK) -- President Obama is in New York City Tuesday for his first full day at the United Nations General Assembly, where he will meet with world leaders and spend the next two days on a range of issues that include Libya, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

First up is a meeting with the chairman of Libya’s new governing group, the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

“We put a lot of effort into Libya in the course of the last several weeks to get international support for post-Gadhafi Libya, and that’s going to be the focus of these meetings,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Monday.

With U.S. support, the TNC was recently seated as a representative of the Libya government at the U.N.

Next, Obama will hold a bilateral meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the transition to Afghan security forces.  This marks the first meeting between the two leaders since the White House announced its plan for withdrawal.

Later, the president will meet with President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey.

In the evening, the president and first lady will attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at Gotham Hall in New York City.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Reassures Jewish Donors US Bond with Israel 'Isn’t Breakable'

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Speaking to Jewish donors Monday night, President Obama promised that his administration will employ “all of its creative powers to try to bring about peace” in the Middle East.

"The most important message I have for all of you here tonight is that even as we try to manage what is going to be a very difficult and challenging situation over the next 12 months, the next 24 months, the next decade, that one inviolable principle will be that the United States and Israel will always be stalwart allies and friends.  That bond isn’t breakable,” Obama said to applause.

The president’s comments at a dinner with “Americans in Support of a Strong U.S.-Israel Relationship” come just weeks after he sparked controversy for saying that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

Obama noted that while “there may be tactical disagreements in terms of how we approach these difficult problems,” his “broader vision” is one in which a “secure Jewish state is able to live in peace with its neighbors.”

“That will remain our North Star.  That will remain our goal,” he said at the high-dollar fundraiser at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The event was the first of two Democratic National Committee fundraisers for the Obama Victory Fund that the president addressed Monday night.  Tickets for the sold-out dinner ranged between $25,000 to $35,800.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Seeks to Clarify Mid-East Borders Remarks

ABC News (File)(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama went to the American pro-Israel lobby on Sunday to reaffirm America's commitment to Israel’s security, and to try to clear up the controversy caused by remarks he made earlier in the week over the starting point for a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Obama set off a firestorm and clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he said on Thursday that the U.S. believes the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with mutually-agreed land swaps, should be the basis for negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Sunday the president said that he thinks controversy over his comments erupted because his position has been misrepresented.

"Let me reaffirm what '1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps' means," he said.

"By definition, it means that the parties themselves - Israelis and Palestinians - will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation."

Obama said the negotiation would allow for both the Israelis and Palestinians to account for new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides with the ultimate goal of two states for both the Israelis and Palestinians.

"If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance," said Obama. "What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately."

Israel will face growing isolation without a credible peace process, Obama said, and the march to isolate Israel internationally and the Palestinians impulse to abandon negotiations will continue to gain momentum without a credible peace process.

"For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success," he said.

Much of the president’s speech focused on assuring the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee that his administration has made Israel’s security a priority.

"It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels.  It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies.  And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels," said Obama.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


King Abdullah and George Mitchell: Tough Road for Mid-East Peace

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key American ally and advocate of the Middle East peace process, says he does not have much hope for progress on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in the coming months.

"My instincts tell me not to expect much over the next couple of months, unfortunately," King Abdullah said in an exclusive interview with " ABC’s This Week anchor Christiane Amanpour." "I just have a feeling that we're going to be living with the status quo for 2011."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently visiting the United States, where he met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday, before addressing a joint session of Congress next Tuesday. Netanyahu spoke strongly against President Obama's Thursday address in which he publicly called for the pre-1967 borders of Israel to serve as the starting point for future peace negotiations.

Abdullah said the current realities on the ground leave him pessimistic, including Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.

"When he speaks to me, I see his vision of peace with the Palestinians, peace with the Arabs and I've always left those meetings feeling very optimistic," Abdullah said of his discussions with Netanyahu. "But unfortunately, the circumstances that we've seen on the ground for the past two years does not fill me with much hope."

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who resigned this month as President Obama's envoy to the Middle East after serving two years, said that while President Obama's comments on the 1967 borders were "a significant statement," they do not signal a major shift in policy, especially when land swaps are considered.

"The president didn't say that Israel has to go back to the '67 lines. He said with agreed swaps," Mitchell told Amanpour. "Swaps means an exchange of land intended to accommodate major Israeli population centers to be incorporated into Israel and Israel's security needs. Agreed means through negotiations. Both parties must agree."

While Mitchell said "it's indisputable that we have not made as much progress as we would have liked," he said he maintains a positive outlook if both sides are willing to negotiate.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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