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Republican House leaders head to the Gulf

Republican House leaders head to the Gulf

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is leading a mostly Republican congressional delegation to several Gulf countries next week and will focus heavily on coordinating an international response to Iran, his office announced today.

"I look forward to discussing a wide-range of issues, including the very concerning threat posed to the entire world by Iran’s continuing support for terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear capability," Cantor said in a statement about his upcoming visit to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, and the United Arab Emirates. "By visiting this critical region at a time of such significance, we will be better informed to work together to address our concerns with Iran, the pressing threats of terrorism, regional instability and political transition, and the global economic crisis."

Cantor did not say if he would stand by his 2010 announcement that his caucus supports stripping U.S. aid from any country that doesn’t share U.S. interests, except for Israel.

Joining him on the trip will be House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said today she will focus on Iran, Israel, and human rights during talks with Gulf officials.

"I will also use this as an opportunity to press these governments to respect human rights, particularly with respect to women, and end religious intolerance. This past year has witnessed enormous change and uncertainty in the region, and we must work to ensure that basic human rights standards are upheld going forward," she said in her own statement.

"I also remain concerned about the relationships between many countries in the region and our key ally, Israel," she said. "Responsible nations must stand by Israel, support its right to defend itself, and press the Palestinian leadership to meet its obligations so that a true and lasting peace may be achieved. Support for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, outside of negotiations with Israel, is deeply disturbing and threatens regional peace and stability."

Other lawmakers on the trip include Reps. Diane Black (R-TN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike Conaway (R-TX), House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Rep. Todd Young (R-IN). The exact dates of the visits are being withheld for security reasons.

Many lawmakers are using their winter recess for foreign travel, but only a few are headed to the Middle East. Among those is Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who is on a trip that has already included stops in Tunisia, Libya, Israel, and Iraq.

A Lieberman aide told The Cable that the senator was visiting North Africa "in a show of support for the transitional democracies in Libya and Tunisia." He met in Tripoli with newly installed Defense Minister Usama al-Juwali and Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal, along with Libyan civil society, NGO leaders, and local media. Lieberman’s trip was the first congressional delegation to Libya since the end of NATO operations. In Tunisia, he met with new Prime Minister Hammadi Jebeli and President Moncef Marzouki, as well as opposition leaders in the Constituent Assembly.

In Iraq, Lieberman met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani, and KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih, among others. Lieberman is the first member of Congress to visit Iraq since the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces in December, and since the outbreak of a new and worsening political crisis there.