WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Monday held a press call to discuss his recent travels to Qatar, Oman and Jordan. Murphy’s trip included meetings with foreign leaders and senior officials including Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Omani Foreign Minister Al-Busaidi, Qatari Foreign Minister Al-Thani, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and several European ambassadors to Yemen to discuss the humanitarian crisis and urgent need to find a political solution to end the war in Yemen. Murphy joined senior members of the Biden Administration – including Yemen Special Envoy Tim Lenderking, U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet and National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk – during parts of the trip and discussed the reform agenda in the Middle East; prospects for preserving the two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians; instability in Syria and the refugee crisis; and the need to restart the Iran nuclear deal.

On recent tensions in Jerusalem, Murphy said: “First, let me just express my great concern regarding the escalation of violence in and around Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to commit to a path of de-escalation. This constant ratcheting up of violence may serve political interests, but it could lead to a chaos that is ultimately going to get a lot of people killed. Hamas needs to stop rocket attacks, but Israel needs to stop the forcible eviction of Palestinians from their homes. I will say that the escalation in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians stands in contrast to much more promising developments that I witnessed firsthand on the ground in the Middle East during my trip." 

On the Biden administration’s re-engagement in diplomacy and commitment to de-escalation in the region, Murphy said: “It is clear that Middle Eastern leaders see the Biden administration’s priority on settling conflicts. And so it is not a coincidence that almost immediately after the election of President Biden, you saw the rift in the GCC get on a pathway to being healed. It's not a coincidence that after President Biden was sworn in, you saw the Iranians and the Saudis starting to talk to each other in a way that is virtually unprecedented in the recent past. And it's not a coincidence that we are having more serious talks about a ceasefire in Yemen now that President Biden has ended our blank check to one side of that conflict and has instead empowered a very capable diplomat, Tim Lenderking, with the job of trying to find a path to peace. And so I was very glad to see the grass shoots of de-escalation in the region while I was there.”

On the need for the United States to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement, Murphy said: “…as much as there is to be encouraged by in the region, I came back more confident than ever that it is imperative for the United States to get back into the Iran deal to see these encouraging developments continue. There is no doubt that a restart of the Iran deal is good for the United States and good for the region.” 

Murphy continued: “I've communicated this to the administration any way I can, both during the trip and since returning, that we need to be focused on getting back into compliance, getting the Iranians back into compliance. And if we do, I think we have a very good shot at continuing that momentum into a number of other diplomatic pathways that are already underway in the region.”  

In Jordan, Murphy also met with the commander of Jordanian military forces, Chairman of Defense Major General Yusuf Hnaity. Murphy discussed the situation in Yemen with EU Ambassador Hans Grundberg to Yemen, German Ambassador to Yemen Karola Molar, and UK Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron. Murphy also discussed the challenges facing Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Jordan with UNRWA Commissioner General Lazzarini during a visit to a UNRWA-sponsored training center and met with the Director of the Al-Hayat Center Dr. Amer Bani Amer, to better understand the contributions of civil society to Jordanian stability.  Finally, Murphy shared lunch with members of the Connecticut National Guard currently on assignment to Jordan.

Last month, Murphy discussed the urgent need for humanitarian funding in Yemen with United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock. Murphy joined the Mehdi Hassan Show to discuss the need for donors to fulfill their pledges and help address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Murphy also recently chaired a subcommittee hearing on U.S. policy on Yemen that included U.S. Department of State Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking, United States Institute of Peace President and Chief Executive Officer Lise Grande, and International Rescue Committee’s Senior Director for International Programs, Policy and Advocacy Amanda Catanzano.

A full transcript of Murphy’s opening remarks can be found below:

“Thanks for joining the call today. I think you heard that we'll have moderated questions after I open with a few remarks. As you all know by now, I spent much of last week in the region. I was in the Middle East visiting Qatar, Oman, and Jordan. I did meetings with several members of the Biden administration while I was there.

“In Oman I met with members of the foreign ministry and the Sultan’s team with Tim Lenderking, our envoy for Yemen. While in Jordan I conducted meetings on Yemen with Tim Lenderking and met with the king, along with a delegation from the Biden administration that was criss-crossing the region led by Derek Chollet, Brett McGurk, Dana Stroul and Joey Hood. And I'm eager to share some of my takeaways with you.

“First, let me just express my great concern regarding the escalation of violence in and around Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to commit to a path of de-escalation. This constant ratcheting up of violence may serve political interests, but it could lead to a chaos that is ultimately going to get a lot of people killed. Hamas needs to stop rocket attacks, but Israel needs to stop the forcible eviction of Palestinians from their homes.

“I will say that the escalation in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians stands in contrast to much more promising developments that I witnessed firsthand on the ground in the Middle East during my trip. It is clear that Middle Eastern leaders see the Biden administration’s priority on settling conflicts.

“And so it is not a coincidence that almost immediately after the election of President Biden, you saw the rift in the GCC get on a pathway to being healed. It's not a coincidence that after President Biden was sworn in you saw the Iranians and the Saudis starting to talk to each other in a way that is virtually unprecedented in the recent past. And it's not a coincidence that we are having more serious talks about a ceasefire in Yemen now that President Biden has ended our blank check to one side of that conflict and has instead empowered a very capable diplomat, Tim Lenderking, with the job of trying to find a path to peace. And so I was very glad to see the grass shoots of de-escalation in the region while I was there.

“We have a ceasefire proposal on the table in Yemen. As you know, I've been involved in U.S.-Yemen policy since the beginning of the war. I have long sought an end to U.S. participation in the conflict. My theory has been that once the United States ended its blank check for the Saudis that they would be much more willing to get serious about peace. I think that theory has played out in reality.

“The Saudis have put on the table a serious offer, and it's now time for the Houthis to do their part. Their military campaign on Marib will end in a humanitarian catastrophe, and it is imperative that the Houthis stand down in the assault on Marib, and that the Saudis make commitments regarding an end to the blockade on both the Hodeidah Port and the Sanaa Airport that will allow for relief goods to flow unfettered into the country. 

“If those two things happen, we can get to a political process that could see a permanent end to the war. And I am going to do anything necessary to support both Special Envoy Lenderking’s work and Martin Griffiths’ work, he's the special envoy from the United Nations, to get that short term ceasefire and that long term path to political negotiations. 

“In Oman we made clear to the sultan’s representatives that they need to take a tougher line with the Houthis. They are one of the few countries in the region that has the ability to talk to the Houthis, and we made clear that it's time for them to press the Houthis to declare a ceasefire.

“Prior to getting to Oman, I made a stop in Qatar, I was not with any Biden administration officials there, but I met with the foreign minister, and one of the things we talked about was the fact that the Qataris had not yet made a commitment to the UN appeal in Yemen. Right now the UN appeal in Yemen is only about one-third funded. If we don't make significant progress with respect to additional donor commitments, we're going to see a famine in Yemen. And so I'm hopeful that I and the UN will be able to follow up with the Qataris on making a significant commitment to the appeal this year.

“And my last stop was in Jordan where again I was part of a larger delegation to meet with King Abdullah. One of the encouraging things we heard about in Jordan is the increased outreach that Jordan is making to Baghdad. The government in Baghdad, while deeply imperfect, I think is making overtures to countries in the region to lessen its dependence on Iran. And King Abdullah has responded to that request by opening up new pathways for political, economic, and diplomatic cooperation.

“It is a really important moment for Baghdad. They are looking for new partners in the region, and the Biden administration is helping to midwife those connections. That's a really encouraging development for the United States, for Iraq, and for the region.

“The last thing I'll say and then open it up for questions is that as much as there is to be encouraged by in the region, I came back more confident than ever that it is imperative for the United States to get back into the Iran deal to see these encouraging developments continue.

“There is no doubt that a restart of the Iran deal is good for the United States and good for the region. Interesting to note that the very vocal opposition to the Iran deal that was present from Gulf nations during the Obama administration has largely disappeared. I think we've heard fairly consistently from countries in the Gulf that they would welcome a return to the Iran deal because they see it as necessary to continue these early talks of a new regional security architecture. 

“As encouraging as it is that the Iranians and the Saudis are talking, it's hard to imagine that those discussions would bear fruit if the United States continues to be engaged in Trump's maximum pressure campaign. The Iran deal is not necessary for there to be a ceasefire in Yemen, nor a political process that leads us towards permanent peace. But let's be honest, the Iranians are deeply involved in Yemen. They have used Yemen as a means to provoke the United States and our allies during the period of time that we have been out of compliance with the JCPOA.

“Truth be told, the Iranians were very active in Yemen before the JCPOA was signed. But I think it'd be a mistake to believe that the JCPOA and the future of Yemen are disconnected. So I've communicated this to the administration any way I can, both during the trip and since returning, that we need to be focused on getting back into compliance, getting the Iranians back into compliance. And if we do, I think we have a very good shot at continuing that momentum into a number of other diplomatic pathways that are already underway in the region. 

“So I'll stop there because I'm sure there's a million different ways we can go with this conversation. I know we got a lot of folks on this call, so we'll try to make it through as many questions as we can, and once again I'll kick it back to Gabriel to moderate the questions.”

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