WASHINGTON (WAVY) - Sen. Tim Kaine celebrated the Fourth of July by joining several other senators in a trip to the Middle East to visit American troops.
Kaine (D-VA) along with Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John Boozman (R-AR) and Deb Fischer (R-NE), spent the week visiting Afghanistan, Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The group also visited Germany.
Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) joined them in Afghanistan on the Fourth of July.
The purpose of the trip was to visit with servicemembers and discuss developing situations in Syria, Egypt and Iran. The senators also talked about the transition process in Afghanistan.
Monday, the New York Times reported President Obama is considering a "zero option," leaving no American troops in Afghanistan in 2014. Officials say this is due to the mounting frustration the president has Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai ended negotiations over a long-term security deal regarding a small group of servicemembers staying behind after 2014 after the U.S. began peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
"It was really powerful to be with our troops on the Fourth of July," Kaine said of his trip to Afghanistan. "There were eight tables set up – one for each of the states represented by the senators who were in attendance. About 20 Virginians were at my table from all service branches and from the State Department and USAID, as well as Virginians who work with private contractors. We had a really good dialogue about everything from the role of the United States [in Afghanistan] after 2014, to the impacts of sequester, to how the Redskins are going to be this year. … It was a very good way to spend the Fourth."
Kaine also spoke with UAE leaders about Iran and Jordanian officials about Syria, citing the U.S. strong relationships with both.
"We discussed their strong belief that the U.S. and other nations continue to keep sanctions pressure on [Iran] and do other things necessary to make sure they do not move beyond use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and move to the point where they are enriching uranium for nuclear weaponry. That was a very important discussion to have because with some of the events in Syria and Egypt you could take your eye off of the problem in Iran, but we can't afford to," Kaine said.
While in Germany, Kaine visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to meet with Wounded Warriors. He requested the phone numbers of Virginians in an effort to speak with their spouses upon his return to the Commonwealth.
The trip also gave Kaine perspective on the sequester overseas. Furloughs with the Department of Defense began Monday and will continue for several weeks. Kaine said officials at Ramstein Air Force Base expressed concern of the force's readiness capacity if the U.S. needed to respond quickly and a lack of training or flight hours should a group be ordered into combat.
"We are in a situation where the world is not getting safer every day. Whether it's an Iranian nuclear threat, a North Korean nuclear threat, Egypt, or the situation in Syria, the world is not getting easier – it's getting tougher," Kaine said. "And as the world is getting tougher, we are using bad budget strategies that are hampering our ability to do what we need to do. That's why I supported the vote in February to knock back the sequester. That's why I supported a Senate budget that would trade off the budget cuts for ones that are targeted instead of across the board and backload them in the 10 year budget cycle. That's why as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that the Armed Services Committee passed in June I proposed an amendment – one that's a sense of the entire committee – that sequester is bad and we ought to do something to find a better alternative. I am going to continue to look for an alternative to sequester and for colleagues who want to join me in that. I have a feeling that my colleagues on Armed Services see it as starkly as any. What we saw in Germany didn't do anything to reduce my sense of urgency about it."
The senators spent six days overseas.
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