WASHINGTON – Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will lead a Congressional delegation to Israel, Syria, and Austria from February 13-21, 2009. The Members of Congress that will be travelling with the delegation are Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Tom Udall (D-NM), and Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), as well as Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI). Joining the delegation in Vienna will be Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).
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 territories. The delegation will hold a press conference on Monday, February 16, at 5:00 p.m. at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.
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. Details on a press conference in Damascus will be released at a later date.
Then the delegation will travel to Vienna, where they will attend the 8th Annual Winter Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) The purpose of the meeting is to 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.
During the meeting, Chairman Cardin will deliver a statement on President Obama’s intention to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and on other related issues. Additionally, the delegation intends to hold bilateral meetings with the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, as well as with officials of the Russian and Kazakh delegations.
Chairman Cardin has a long-standing career in foreign affairs and human rights. He currently is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has served as a member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission since 1993, including Ranking Member from 2003-2006. In the 110th Congress, he was Co-Chairman of the Commission, and is currently Vice President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly.