Discussing his trip, Menendez said he was “encouraged by the expressed commitment to addressing the terror threat that afflicts both our nations and destabilizes the region, as well as support for the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Progress on these key issues will enable us to re-focus our bilateral relationship on deepening our political and economic ties which will benefit both our nations.”
In Afghanistan, Menendez met with President Hamid Karzai.
“The meeting provided an important opportunity to discuss the changing United States’ mission in Afghanistan,” Menendez said. “This mission is critical, not only for the stability of Afghanistan but also to protect enduring U.S. interests in the region.”
One CODEL over the break was a five-member expedition led by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which included stops in San Diego and Hawaii before heading to Guam where they toured an outpatient veterans’ clinic and Naval hospital and met with various veterans organizations to discuss the fiscal ramifications of the sequestration. The group subsequently moved on to the Philippines.
Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), the territory’s delegate in Congress, said the purpose of the trip was to “assess the clinical operations, programs, and collaborative activities of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Department of Defense medical facilities.”
“The delegation had the opportunity to meet with local government leaders and our veteran service organizations to learn of the needs and concerns of our community,”’ she said. “Their visit also highlights the importance of improving critical services and benefits for our veterans. This was a fruitful visit and I am confident that our local veterans will continue to see improved services now that the chairman and members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs had the opportunity to visit our island and people.”
Closer to home, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led a CODEL to Cuba with the hope of gaining the freedom of Alan Gross, an American who was jailed more than three years ago for distributing communication technology.
The delegation, which included Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), carried the support of the State Department. The remaining members of the delegation were Democrats — Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland , and Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.
The mission met with Cuban President Raul Castro but failed to obtain Gross’s release.
“We discussed a wide range of issues and I assured (Gross) we were doing everything possible to secure his immediate release,” Van Hollen said. “I indicated to President Raul Castro that the release of Mr. Gross is essential if we are to going to improve the relationship between the United States and Cuba – something I believe is in the interest of both of our countries.”
After that stop the delegation proceeded to Haiti to get a post-earthquake view of the island nation.
And there was no reason for Rubio to feel all alone in Israel. Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a federal government agency that monitors the 1975 Helsinki accords and works toward developing a cooperative global atmosphere in 56 countries, visited Israel, Turkey, and Austria on a seven-day trip for a firsthand assessment of developments in the region.
In Jerusalem on Feb. 17 the entourage met with President Shimon Peres, following that up on Feb. 18 with Turkish President Abdullah Gül in Ankara.
The delegation was led by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the commission’s co-chairman. The panel numbers 21, including nine from the House and nine from the Senate.