MURPHY ON THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF MIDDLE EAST EVENTS: “ALL OF IT’S A SIGN OF MASSIVE FAILURE OF POLICY BY THIS ADMINISTRATION”

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Wednesday held a press call to talk about the Trump administration’s reckless Middle East policy. This call follows his meeting at the White House ahead of the unveiling of the president’s Middle East ‘peace plan,” the latest escalation of violence in Yemen, the formation of a new government in Lebanon, an escalating international conflict in Libya, the death of an American citizen in Egyptian custody, and the administration’s latest justification for the strikes on IRGC Commanders Qasem Soleimani in Iraq and Abdul Reza Shahlai in Yemen.

On the administration’s Middle East ‘peace plan,’ Murphy said: “I got the chance to go over and meet with Jared and Ambassador Friedman yesterday morning along with a handful of other Republican senators. I was not shy to express my view that this is no peace plan at all. In fact, it will have the effect of ending any chance at negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the short run and in the long run.”

Murphy continued: “I remain deeply concerned that this plan obliterates decades of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, makes peace less likely, destabilizes the region, sells out the Jordanians, jeopardizes security inside that country. I hope that we're going to be engaged in some vigorous oversight.”

On Yemen, Murphy said: “The Houthis have begun a series of very provocative strikes and peace negotiations seem to be falling apart. This is likely connected to the ongoing escalation with Iran. Iran has the ability to be influential with the Houthis but it appears that one of the mechanisms by which the Iranians are striking back against the United States is perhaps taking the lid off of the ceasefire in Yemen. It's time for the U.S. to directly engage in high level diplomacy, something that Secretary Pompeo has been unwilling to do.”

On the new Lebanese government, Murphy said: “[I]t clearly represents a failure of U.S. leadership and policy that we now have a Hezbollah aligned government in Lebanon, something that we would not have thought would have been the result of the growing protest movement on the streets.”

Murphy announced his plans to ask the Director of National Intelligence to do a full investigation into the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone: “The UN has come to the conclusion that Mohammed bin Salman himself was likely involved in the appropriation of data from Bezos’ cell phone. If that is true, it has serious ramifications for U.S.-Saudi relations and we need to get to the bottom of this operation, which likely is much broader than the targeting of just one individual. If the Saudis are indeed involved in cybercrimes against multiple U.S. individuals, we need to know about it.”

Lastly, on the death of Egyptian-American citizen Mustafa Kassem, Murphy said: “We frankly have no idea how many Americans today are locked up in Egypt. We know there are multiple American citizens who are being held by the Egyptians. We now have had one lose his life while in custody, and it's just another sign that our wholesale abandonment of human rights advocacy in the region is now costing American lives.”

Please find the full transcript of Murphy’s opening remarks below:

“Thanks, everybody. It's Chris Murphy. Thanks for hanging on the line for a few minutes. I just thought it would be helpful to get on the phone for a few minutes this morning before impeachment proceedings overwhelm us, to be able to go over a few of the pretty earth-shattering foreign policy developments that have occurred in the past several days. Happy to take questions, as well if there questions on impeachment, glad to do that as well.

“You know, first and foremost, I did want to talk for a moment about this so-called peace plan introduced by the administration yesterday. I got the chance to go over and meet with Jared and Ambassador Friedman yesterday morning along with a handful of other Republican senators. I was not shy to express my view that this is no peace plan at all. In fact, it will have the effect of ending any chance at negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the short run and in the long run.

“It hardens Israel's position; it makes it almost impossible for any future Israeli government to move off of the map that has now been unilaterally agreed to and released by the Americans and the Israelis. It backs the Palestinians into a corner and while not completely shutting the door on a true two state solution, it comes dangerously close. And it also is very clear that this plan was and is entirely half baked.

“The idea that the Israelis are planning to announce the annexation of massive pieces of the Jordan River Valley in the coming days and that announcement, seemingly being a surprise to the White House, is a sign that they were rushing this out. Before it was ready for prime time. They were rushing this out because they needed a political benefit for the president and for the Israeli Prime Minister.

“And so, I remain deeply concerned that this plan obliterates decades of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, makes peace less likely, destabilizes the region, sells out the Jordanians, jeopardizes security inside that country. I hope that we're going to be engaged in some vigorous oversight.

“But there's also other bad news in the region that deserves attention. After a few months of small bits of good news out of Yemen, grass shoots of ceasefire talks and peace negotiations, events on the ground have very quickly moved backward. The Houthis have begun a series of very provocative strikes and peace negotiations seem to be falling apart.

“This is likely connected to the ongoing escalation with Iran. Iran has the ability to be influential with the Houthis but it appears that one of the mechanisms by which the Iranians are striking back against the United States is perhaps taking the lid off of the ceasefire in Yemen. It's time for the U.S. to directly engage in high level diplomacy, something that Secretary Pompeo has been unwilling to do.

“In Lebanon more bad news. The president inexplicably cut off funding for the non-sectarian Lebanese army. And the Iranians use that crisis and use that breach between the United States and the Lebanese military in order to push themselves into a new position of prominence in that country. The new Lebanese Government is more friendly to Hezbollah and Iran than anything we would have imagined coming out of this most recent crisis. And it clearly represents a failure of U.S. leadership and policy that we now have a Hezbollah aligned government in Lebanon, something that we would not have thought would have been the result of the growing protest movement on the street.

“And then just two last things to mention.  I am going to be asking the Director of National Intelligence to do a full investigation into the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ cell phone. The UN has come to the conclusion that Mohammed bin Salman himself was likely involved in the appropriation of data from Bezos’ cell phone. If that is true, it has serious ramifications for U.S.-Saudi relations and we need to get to the bottom of this operation, which likely is much broader than the targeting of just one individual. If the Saudis are indeed involved in cybercrimes against multiple U.S. individuals, we need to know about it.

“And then finally, I'll just note as I did several weeks ago, the death of Mustafa Kassem, who died in Egyptian custody. We, frankly have no idea how many Americans today are locked up in Egypt. We know there are multiple American citizens who are being held by the Egyptians. We now have had one lose his life while in custody, and it's just another sign that our wholesale abandonment of human rights advocacy in the region is now costing American lives.

“So, given that the whole country's attention is on impeachment, I wanted to make sure that I got the chance to make some comments on what, I think, is a downward spiral of events happening in the Middle East today. All of it's a sign of a massive failure of policy by this administration. Be happy to take a couple of questions.”

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