WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Tim Walz detailed his trip to the Middle East with Minnesota reporters today, discussing his admiration of the Palestinian security forces, the negative impact of Israel’s settlement expansions and getting personal with Syria’s president over foreign fighters entering Iraq through his country.
“While [Syrian President Bashar al-Asad] did not take responsibility, he acknowledged that it was a problem,” Walz said. “I made it clear that it was personal. I have friends I served alongside of, people who are there [fighting in Iraq] that I know. I take this very personally. If his hand is not there to stop those foreign fighters, he is responsible.”
The trip marked the Minnesota Democrat’s first voyage to the region. Over the course of last week, he traveled to Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Syria and Turkey with Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Robert Casey, D-Penn., and Ted Kaufman, D-Del.
Walz said the purpose of the trip was to make contact with some of the region’s leaders in advance of President Obama’s much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world Thursday and to continue efforts to find a workable peace solution in the Middle East.
According to Walz, there was much anticipation in the region for Obama’s speech. He said that one Palestinian business leader told him that what tends to move things forward in the Middle East “is always a striking moment.” And that many people in the area think that this could be one of those defining moments.
“It is a lot of pressure on the president, but they were hinting that this 45-minute speech could have that effect,” Walz said.
Walz touched on the potential for economic opportunity in the Middle East, particularly with Turkey, which expressed an interest in importing U.S. soybeans.
But he acknowledged that there were still many obstacles in the area, especially with Syria, which, he said, had made a small step forward by agreeing to meet with his delegation and recently communicating with Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.
Walz then discussed a range of other topics, touching on Guantanamo, climate-change legislation and running for governor.
On Guantanamo, Walz said that the concerns about how the remaining detainees could use the legal system were valid, but security concerns over holding them in U.S. prisons were not.
“The idea that they will be housed here and escape at night and cause mayhem is an insult to our prison system,” Walz said.
Walz noted that a Rochester, Minn., prison has been holding Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, without incident.
Walz said that if all the procedures were in place and it very clear as to the legal avenues that would be open to the remaining detainees, he thought that the “our professionals there [Rochester] can handle it.”
On the climate change bill being developed in the House, Walz said that the debate going on between Democrats was a good thing. It should not be a bill that just passes out of one committee and that all Democrats are expected to be in “lockstep,” Walz said.
Still, Walz is looking to move legislation forward in a timely manner.
“I don’t want to look my grandchildren in the eyes in a hot world that just isn’t working right” and say we just couldn’t get it together to pass this bill, Walz said.
And on a question as to whether he would consider running for governor now that Gov. Tim Pawlenty has announced he will not seek a third term, Walz said:
“After 20 years of teaching middle school and high school, I’m good at assessing my strengths and weaknesses. And, I think I am well-suited here… I am content and honored to represent the people of the First District, and that is where I would like to stay if they will have me.”