Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman weighs in from Mideast

Source: The News Journal

By NICOLE GAUDIANO

July 10, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Failure to resolve a dispute over Israeli settlements "could really mess up the timetable" for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, Sen. Ted KAUFMAN said Friday.

The Delaware Democrat, who visited Israel this week during a trip to the Middle East, told reporters in a conference call from Egypt he was surprised Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu faces such strong opposition within his coalition to extending a freeze on settlements.

Israel announced plans to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem when Vice President Joe Biden was visiting in March, causing a rift with U.S. leaders. A partial settlement moratorium, set to expire in September, is a condition for peace talks with Palestinians. Netanyahu didn't say during his visit to Washington this week if he'll extend the moratorium.

"If you're looking for potential places for trouble, you have put your finger on one of the major things," KAUFMAN said, responding to a question from Gannett about the settlements.

But KAUFMAN said Israeli government officials and Palestinian officials in the West Bank want direct talks badly enough that Netanyahu's coalition members may drop their opposition to the moratorium.

"I have a feeling the momentum to get these talks moving might just roll over top of that," KAUFMAN said.

President Barack Obama met Tuesday with Netanyahu, who said he and the president discussed "concrete steps'' to move the peace process forward "in the coming days and the coming weeks."

Obama and Netanyahu sought to reaffirm that their relationship, which had turned frosty following Israel's announcement of the planned settlements, is still solid.

KAUFMAN said newspaper stories in Israel make it clear Israelis do not count Obama as "a big supporter,'' a perception Obama tried to erase during Netanyahu's visit.

"While Obama is very popular in the rest of the world, he is not popular in Israel," KAUFMAN said.

KAUFMAN said his visit to Saudi Arabia reinforced his belief that the country is so concerned Iran will develop nuclear weapons that it will play an active role in the Middle East peace process.

KAUFMAN, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, left for his tour on July 1 and will return before Monday. He and fellow Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Jeanne Shaheen of North Carolina are meeting with civilian and military leaders in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and the West Bank.

KAUFMAN met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who both want to lead Iraq. They haven't reached a power-sharing agreement since Allawi's party narrowly won a majority in parliament in March.

The lawmakers also saw Biden, who was in Iraq to press for a political agreement. Their meeting with the vice president helped them "move the ball forward'' when they met with Iraqi officials, KAUFMAN said.

KAUFMAN said the officials he met with believe a government will take shape in Iraq long before the U.S. combat mission there ends Aug. 31, and possibly before Ramadan in August. The Iraqis are making progress in a democratic way, he said.

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