Lankford Applauds Ongoing US Success toward Peace in the Middle East, Eastern Europe
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the US’s ongoing pursuit of helping lead negotiations toward peace and understanding in the Middle East and around the world. Earlier this week, Lankford attended the historic signing at the White House of the Abraham Accords amid the recent normalization of relations between Israel and Bahrain and Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Lankford also mentioned President Trump‘s recent successes in Eastern Europe, specifically in Kosovo. In 2016 Lankford led a congressional delegation to Kosovo, where he visited with Oklahoma National Guard members, and also to Turkey and South Korea.
A few days ago flight 971 took off from Tel Aviv airport. You might say, of course a flight took off from Tel Aviv. That happens every day. But not like this flight. You see, flight 971 took off from Tel Aviv airport, flew south directly over Saudi Arabia, which hasn’t happened, and landed in Abu Dhabi, because the United Arab Emirates have formed a peace agreement with Israel, recognizing its right to exist, opening up embassies in Israel and the United Arab Emirates, beginning trade in commerce, and just days ago the first cargo aircraft took off and flew taking supplies, technology, medicine, engagement between the nation of Israel and the Arab nation of the United Arab Emirates, form a brand new alliance in the Middle East.
That flight 971 is significant because 971 is the country code, if you’re going to call the United Arab Emirates. The return flight, by the way, leaving from Abu Dhabi, and flying back to Israel is flight 972, the country code for Israel. And that first flight that took off on the outside of the plane were emblazoned three words, one in English, one in Hebrew, one in Arabic, all translated the word peace. It’s a new day, and this week when President Trump and the Foreign Minister from United Arab Emirates and from Bahrain and the Prime Minister of Israel all stood at the White House and spoke of each other and formed a new partnership and then all sat at a table and signed documents together beginning a new relationship not just with UAE but also with Bahrain, it was a remarkable day in world history.
In 70 years of Israel’s history, only two nations that are Arab nations have recognized Israel’s right to exist even—Jordan and Egypt. In one day, two more nations joined: the UAE and Bahrain. It was interesting to hear the Foreign Minister of Bahrain and UAE compliment for the leadership. It was a negotiation that was turned on its head. For decades, American negotiators have tried to work to solve the issues with the Palestinians first and then to work to solve every other relationship second. That’s been the American focus. The Trump negotiations reversed it, said that they believe many in the Arab world were tired of the Palestinians holding their foreign policy hostage, and they flipped it and said, ‘Why don’t we start negotiating with the Arab world first and see if they want to open up trade negotiations with Israel and to be able to stabilize those negotiations.’ It’s worked. Not only that it worked in two countries in a single day signing an agreement, but there are multiple other nations that are currently looking at the same deal with Israel to say, ‘Yes, we still need to resolve the issues in the Palestinian Territory. Yes, that’s still very important. But these nations can work towards peace and towards unity together as they resolve their differences.’
They signed a document dealing with relationships diplomatically, but they also signed something called the Abraham Accords declaration. Let me read this because it is significant. It begins with this simple statement: We the undersigned recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom. That’s a significant statement. Nations that have spoken of religious freedom, but it has not thrived there. The document goes on to say: We seek tolerance and respect for every person in order to make this world a place where all can enjoy a life of dignity and hope, no matter their race, faith, or ethnicity. We support science, art, medicine, and commerce to inspire humankind, maximize human potential, and bring nations closer together. We seek to end radicalization and conflict to provide all children a better future. We pursue a vision of peace, security, and prosperity in the Middle East and the world.
It was a document many people said would never be signed, but it’s a stake in the ground to say it is a new day in the Middle East and peace negotiations and pivot as Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Nations like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Sudan and Lebanon should take notice and should see the benefit of economic trade and engagement, to confronting Iranian influence in the area that tries to destabilize so much of the Middle East, pushing back on terrorism, developing partnerships in science and health and technology and prosperity for everyone in the region. That happened this week.
There’s something happening on Monday that, though much of the world has missed as well in the Middle East. For a year, there’s been a process ongoing to be able to confront Iran. Iran has actively stated that they’re going to be able to pursue their nuclear ambitions. They’ve actively stated they’re going to pursue weapons deals. They’ve actively stated that they want to continue to break the arms embargo and some of our allies have stood silent as Iran has discussed purchasing weapons of all types from all places. We used to be united, regardless whether it was nuclear or not, that Iran should not continue to accelerate that as the largest exporter of terrorism to the world. We should confront what Iran is trying to do to continuing to provide heavy arms.
As of Monday, the United States will move into a different mode with Iran. As of midnight Sunday night, snapback sanctions begin on Iran on Monday. That is a different moment for us as a nation to say we have stated as a country, now through multiple presidencies, we will not allow Iran to be a nuclear power or to continue to arm itself in such a way to do its neighbors harm. Snapback sanctions occur on Monday. All of our allies should be aware the United States is steadfast in that commitment, and we would ask you to join us in that as well. Over the past few months, thousands of troops have come back home from the Middle East, from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan. By the end of this year, we’ll have 4,500 troops still in Afghanistan from a high just a few years ago of 100,000 boots on the ground. Ongoing negotiations for peace continue between afghan leadership and the Taliban. Those are problems that have existed for decades and in some areas generations.
While I don’t believe that Afghanistan will suddenly break out and be a bastion of peace for the world, we do have a responsibility to help them where we can but also an obligation to protect our sons and daughters, our blood, and our treasure has been spilt in Afghanistan for decades. We shouldn’t lose the investment of that blood and treasure, but it’s good to see so many people coming home.
In Europe, free trade agreement is actively being negotiated with the UK We’re pleased to be able to partner with such a special relationship country like the United Kingdom. We’ve had a long-lasting friendship with them since we settled a little conflict in 1776 and another dustup in 1812. That special relationship with the UK should continue on with a very good trade agreement. And I’m pleased that the Administration continues to be able to push forward in the area of trade. An area that it’s amazing that many people didn’t notice was the powder keg of Europe that just recently was resolved. For generations the area around Serbia and Kosovo had been a hotbed area for conflict. In of the past few weeks, the Trump Administration has negotiated a peace deal between Serbia and Kosovo that leaves Serbia to actually recognize Kosovo. That May not seem like a big deal to many other people. But to Oklahomans, many who have served in our 45th, that have served there in Kosovo helping protect and stabilize that country and provide security there in that region, it’s very significant to us. To be able to see peace breaking out between Serbia and Kosovo. While many people don’t pay attention to what’s happening in Serbia and Kosovo, the Trump Administration has and their team has been doing a good job in negotiating that and bringing to them a stability.
In those negotiations, Serbia and Kosovo agreed to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and to recognize Jerusalem, another affirmation of what is happening in the Middle East and the strength of what is ongoing people may have missed. We all grieve for what is happening in Lebanon. That experiment and multiracial and multi-faith and cooperative government has been a struggle, but they have been a stronghold for religious tolerance in Lebanon. Watching the hundreds of people that were killed and thousands that were injured in the explosion at the docks in Beirut, it was painful for the entire world and the United States has stepped up as being the top donor to humanitarian aid to Lebanon during this time period and engaging in multiple ways. At the end of the day if we’re going to help Lebanon be stable, we have to let that experiment, their democracy, in the Middle East.
I partnered with Senator Murphy to help Lebanon rebuild, including utilizing the US Development Finance Corporation, which is called the DFC, to help them and their infrastructure projects, to be able to push out China who has been working their way into the Middle East and to allow the people of Lebanon to decide their own future. Leveraging leadership and the international monetary fund and not allowing for real reforms in their banking systems to be able to push out corruption and Hezbollah. There are things that we can do that are not a partisan nature that Senator Murphy and I have worked together on. It’s important they continue to be a stable force in the region. This is a real time of testing for them as a country. I’m proud the Administration has pushed our diplomats in Lebanon to be able to find ways where we can practically help now and long term for real reform for them.
There’s a lot of things going on in the world. While we’re focus on COVID, and while we focus on racial inequality, we cannot lose track of the issues we need to be engaged in around the world. It’s important that America continues to be a leader in diplomacy and a leader in bringing religious liberty and freedom and the opportunity for all people, whether you’re in Hong Kong, as we’ve discussed before, or whether you’re in Abu Dhabi, all people deserve the recognition of their humanity and respect and be able to live their lives with freedom. Let’s represent the values that define us and define us all together.