U.S. Sen. Murphy, Back From Iraq, Hails Iran Nuclear Deal

By:  Christopher Keating
Hartford Courant

Just back from a five-day, multi-country trip to the Middle East, U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy said Tuesday that he was pleased that Sen. Richard Blumenthal has stepped forward to support the Iran nuclear agreement.

"I'm very pleased that it appears we have 41 votes, at least, for the Iran nuclear agreement,'' Murphy said during a 45-minute telephone conference call with multiple reporters from The Hartford Courant, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, and other media outlets. "I think the jury is still out'' regarding whether a filibuster can be blocked in the U.S. Senate.

"My hope is those that are supporting the agreement will stick together on the procedural votes,'' Murphy added. "I think it's important that this agreement does not reach the President's desk. ... It's cleaner, simpler'' to avoid a veto by President Barack Obama and a veto override attempt.

"I'm particularly pleased to stand with Senator Blumenthal,'' said Murphy, a fellow Democrat. "This was a tough vote, and a tough decision for him, and I'm glad that we're on the same page.''

Regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, Murphy said, "Ultimately this is about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. ... If Iran cheats, we can either put back sanctions'' or could eventually take military action.

Concerning whether he lobbied Blumenthal to support the deal, Murphy said, "I knew from the beginning that Dick was going to make his decision based upon the merits. I did speak with him yesterday about the direction he was heading. ... I don't think I would characterize our conversations as my having lobbied him.''

As the ranking member of a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations, Murphy visited Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Qatar last week with Senator Gary Peters of Michigan.

The first country they visited on the five-day trip was the United Arab Emirates, which included a visit to the multilateral terrorism center. The second stop was Qatar, regarding air operations against ISIL. The Senators then made a two-day visit to Baghdad, including a "long meeting'' with the prime minister, Murphy said. The next stop was a Syrian refugee camp with 80,000 people.

"Every single political leader that we met with in the region was in favor of the Iran nuclear agreement,'' Murphy said, adding that the leaders believe the region is "safer with an agreement than without an agreement.''

"The Syrian crisis cannot be solved without Iran at the table,'' Murphy said.

At the Syrian refugee camp that he visited, Murphy said, the majority of the people there were children under the age of 18.

"That camp is a hellhole,'' Murphy said. "We have been warehousing Syrians there for years. They have absolutely given up hope. ... The United States has to do more.''

Overall, he said there are about 1.4 million refugees living in Jordan alone.

"The United States can step up and fully fund the World Food Program'' to feed Syrian refugees, Murphy said. "The majority of kids don't go to school'' at the refugee camp.

"When you walk through the streets of this camp - and calling them streets is charitable - you are literally surrounded by children,'' Murphy said. "There is some electricity, but it's usually only on for a few hours a day. There is no sewer system. ... The families are packed like sardines in tin structures, which are better than the tents they were in. ... These families have given up hope, which is why they are going back to Syria. They shake their heads and wonder what the United States is doing. ... These millions of refugees are going to remember'' the lack of action taken by the United States.

Based on the conditions, some of the refugees will be dead in the next several years, he said.

"We can't be an honest broker between the multifaceted sides of the conflict if the United States doesn't have an answer'' to the problems in Syria, Murphy said. "They believe the Iraq War lit the flame that led to this humanitarian crisis in Syria.''

On Monday, Murphy had about 250 people at his house for a Labor Day picnic, where he said that Connecticut residents want the United States to do more in the Middle East to solve the refugee crisis.

"We saw first hand how fragile and tenuous'' the political realities are in Baghdad, he said.

"We got several briefings on the train-and-equip program'' inside Syria, he said, adding that certain information that he learned was classified and could not be discussed. "This is a program that was doomed to failure from the start'' in fighting ISIS instead of Syrian leader Assad.