Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Joe Biden on GAZA and The Middle East

U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden continued his visit to war-ravaged Iraq on Tuesday, but got an earful from one of his counterparts about another regional conflict — the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, raised concern over President-elect Barack Obama's "silence" about Israel's military action in Gaza.

"The new administration's reputation is on the line because of President-elect Obama's silence," al-Hashimi said in a statement issued by his office. "This after his stance following the Mumbai events."

Obama issued a strong condemnation of the attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in November.

Al-Hashimi's statement said he expressed his concern about the "aggression on Gaza and the crimes committed against the Palestinian people" in his meeting with Biden.

Obama has been criticized by some for what is perceived as his relative quiet on the violence in Gaza.

His most extensive comment came in a TV interview Sunday. "When you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, under hardship, it's heartbreaking," he said. "And obviously what that does is it makes me much more
determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now."

The president-elect said he believes "the principle of one president at a time has to hold is when it comes to foreign policy. We cannot have two administrations at the same time simultaneously sending signals in a volatile situation."

Vice President-elect Biden is meeting with Iraqi officials during a congressional trip overseas.

Vice President-elect Biden is meeting with Iraqi officials during a congressional trip overseas.

Speaking as Iraq's Sunni vice president, al-Hashimi stressed that Iraqis, as well as all Arabs and Muslims, want change and fairness in the Obama administration's foreign policy.

"The president-elect's silence over the tragedies Palestinians are facing in Gaza will hurt U.S. interests; therefore, the new administration must be urged to intervene and force Israel to abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860 and stop its aggression on Gaza."

The men also discussed the political process in Iraq and the implementation of the U.S. troop withdrawal from that country.

Accompanied by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, Biden met with President Jalal Talabani and his Shiite vice president, Adel Abdel Mehdi, on Monday and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and al-Hashimi on Tuesday.

Biden also met with Iraqi leaders in the disputed and oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, where Arabs, Turkmens, and Kurds are jockeying for power.

Al-Maliki's office issued a statement saying he and Biden discussed developing U.S.-Iraqi bilateral relations.

"We achieved a lot in 2008 in terms of building the armed forces, imposing the law and eradicating terrorists and outlaws. In 2009 our army will be (more) ready to bear its responsibilities and reduce reliance on U.S. forces," al-Maliki's statement said.

It said that Biden "stressed the importance of continuing cooperation and coordination to implement the agreement for the withdrawal of foreign troops signed between the two countries."

As Biden conducted his meetings Tuesday, violence continued in Iraq.

At least 15 Iraqis were wounded in Sunni districts Baghdad, eight in a roadside bombing in the Dora district and seven by mortars in Adhamiya.

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