January 11, 2002 - Hartford Courant: RPCV Chrisotopher Shays snubs Arafat in Mideast Visit

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, January 14, 2002 - 11:06 am: Edit Post

RPCV Chrisotopher Shays snubs Arafat in Mideast Visit

Read and comment on this story from the Hartford Courant on RPCV Congressman Christopher Shays and his visit to the Mideast at:

Shays Snubs Arafat*

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Shays Snubs Arafat

Jan 11, 2002 - Hartford Courant Author(s): David Lightman; Washington Bureau Chief

Rep. Christopher Shays has spent the past week visiting top officials in Turkey and Israel, but the most important statement of his trip may have involved the man he refused to meet.

Shays, R-4th District, would not talk with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Members of Congress visiting Israel talked about arranging such a meeting, but Shays wanted nothing to do with it. "I wouldn't want to be in the same room as him," the congressman said in a telephone interview Thursday from Tel Aviv. "I wouldn't want my picture taken with him."

What angered Shays, chairman of the House subcommittee on national security, veterans affairs and international relations, was what he saw as Arafat's inability and perhaps refusal to curb Palestinian attacks on Israel.

While Middle East violence has eased since Arafat last month urged an end to the violence against Israel, suspicions heightened again this week when Israel seized a cargo ship in the Red Sea with 50 tons of weapons allegedly destined for Palestinians.

And in the last couple of days, Israel has answered the shooting of four Israeli soldiers by Hamas with the bulldozing of dozens of homes in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Ultimately, Shays believes the two sides in the conflict must figure out how to co-exist peacefully, he said, adding, "We can't force a settlement on either state." At the same time, he said, "I don't think we should give in to the Palestinian Authority."

Shays also traveled alone to Ankara and toured Turkey and Incirlik Air Force Base, from which the U.S. patrols the "no fly zone" in northern Iraq.

Though Shays is convinced the U.S. will have to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he did not see that mission as America's most urgent priority or something he was eager to do right away.

"I don't talk about going after Iraq with any bravado. I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I wasn't in Vietnam," he said. "But I realize Iraq should not be allowed to exist under Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons."

Shays said he was concerned Iraq could have nuclear capability in three to five years, a position that neither Israel nor Turkey disputed.

One of the surprises of the trip was Turkey's attitude toward action against Iraq. Shays reported officials there gave the U.S. a "caution light," not a stop sign, should it want to proceed.

Turkey agreed that Iraq could become dangerous and "they want to be prepared for the consequences." Diplomatically, though, Turkey wants to make sure Iraq is not ultimately carved up and given to different ethnic interests that could pose threats.

"What they want is for us not to walk away," Shays said.

When he returns to Washington, Shays hopes to hold several hearings stemming from his trip. One will be about how the U.S. is dealing with the two no-fly zones; the congressman worried "we are in danger of wearing out our people and our equipment."

Another session would look at what is happening in other parts of the world to combat biological weapons.

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