Middle East 2005

Paris - Friday, March 25, 2005
Logged March 25 at 1:00 am GMT + 1 hour (March 24 at 5:00 pm PST)

Good morning from Paris - it is Friday and we are off shortly to meet at the embassy to get a briefing on the numerous military and economic challenges from the French viewpoint. We will then move on to meet with the Foreign Minister and later have a briefing by General James Jones who is NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

It is supposed to be a fairly nice day here, similar to a spring day in Seattle - a bit of rain, a bit of sun. The dust of the middle east was very hard on the eyes - and this I must say is refreshing. It makes me wonder how our troops deal with that for days on end. I have a new sense of admiration for them!

One more day on the road and we will fly back tomorrow. It will be interesting today to hear the view from Europe and to share our impressions with them from the last few days in the Middle East, Iraq and the emerging democracies in Georgia and Ukraine.

~ Patty

Logged March 25 at 11:45 am GMT + 1hour (March 24 at 3:45 am PST)

Good afternoon - it is 6:30 in the evening in Paris - and we have had another full day here. We started out this morning with a briefing from the Embassy Middle East Trip, Day 7 - Meeting with the French Foreign Ministerstaff on numerous issues in discussion between the U.S. and France. We had a chance to get an update on both foreign policy issues as well as economic issues, and of course I was most interested in an on-the-ground update on the Boeing-Airbus dispute from their perspective.

We then went to the office of the Foreign Minister, where we were escorted into an office that...had a huge bathroom with a gold tub attached. All the offices here have some kind of history attached to them. And they are all very beautiful and very well maintained. It is a huge contrast to many of the countries we have been in over the past week.

The Foreign Minister talked about the major issues ahead of us including the Israeli Palestine Peace Process - one he characterized as the most important issue today, as well as the recent events in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, and their recent discussion of lifting the arms embargo against China. He reminded us all that we have much in common even though we sometimes face differences on some of these issues - we have common goals in the world.

As we were leaving, he walked us downstairs and said good bye to each of us. He understood English but used an interpreter to speak with us. He said "Goodbye Senator Reid," "Goodbye Senator Durbin," then turned to me and stopped - turned to his interpreter said something in French. The interpreter turned to me and said "What is the feminine form of Senator"...I said "Oh, we are all the same." I must have been the first woman senator he has met!

We then returned to the Embassy for a lengthy discussion with General Jones, a four-star general who is the NATO Commander. It was an excellent and wide-ranging discussion on all of the countries we have been to, plus the Middle East Trip, Day 7 - Meeting with General Jonesfuture of NATO. It was a great way to tie together all of the issues we have seen over the past week.  Meeting with General Jones

This afternoon I took a break, put on my walking shoes, and headed down the Champs d'Elysee - we have never been here before and we walked all the way to the Arc d'Triomphe. On the way back, we stopped in a little cafe on the sidewalk and sat down. I was so surprised to then have the woman sitting beside me turn over and say "Senator Murray"...! She had lived in Seattle many years ago and recognized me. The world is indeed small.

We are back at the hotel for a short break and will be heading out to dinner shortly for a final discussion on all the events that we have witnessed over the past week. We have seen amazing parts of the world, emerging democracies, tremendous and courageous world leaders. I truly think I have learned more in the past week than I could ever have imagined when we left Washington, D.C., just a week ago. It will take some time to absorb all that I have seen and heard.

Tomorrow morning we pack and have a short time to see a few last sights here then head to the airport for the long flight back to DC, then to Seattle Sunday. I think home is going to look great!

~ Patty
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Impressions of Georgia, Onto Ukraine - Thursday, March 24, 2005
Logged March 24 at 7:00 am GMT + 3 hours (March 23 at 8:00 am PST)

Good morning -- Woke up today to find my picture on the front of The Messenger -- the Georgian newspaper...never thought I'd see that. The photos appeared under the headline "U.S. Totally Behind Georgia".

We are off in a minute to fly to the Ukraine where we will meet with the President and Foreign Minister and do a roundtable with Democracy and Civil Society Leaders...will be very interesting to hear about their elections, meet the President and hear his story!

As I leave Georgia I can't help but send them prayers and support for their fledgling democracy. One event in particular that we have witnessed here gives me hope -- after years of not having a voice -- we have watched with fascination a student protest that is going on. In fact, we saw a huge demonstration with signs (of course in Georgian so I don't know exactly what they said) and hundreds of students on the steps of the Parliament. The Parliament just passed new regulations on student accountability that among other things requires new testing to get into higher education. Students are protesting and there are articles in the paper, it's a huge discussion on the street, and a large number of students are staging a hunger strike on the steps of the Parliament to protest. Seeing people participate in this discussion leaves me thinking -- once people find they have a voice, and use it, and become part of the conversation of the policies their country institutes, win or lose, they are on the way to making their country work for them.

On to the Ukraine!

~ Patty

Logged March 24 at 2:15 pm GMT + 3 hours (March 24 at 1:15 am PST)

Hello all - we have arrived in Paris and, of course, it is raining.

It has been a long day of travel. We left this morning from Georgia and Middle East Trip, Day 6 - Meeting with Prime Minister Victor Yuschenkotraveled to Kiev, Ukraine. We landed and boarded a bus after being greeted by the Ambassador. We drove into the capitol and stopped at Independence Square where the demonstrations surrounding the election took place. For days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people occupied the square, demonstrating for democracy and elections. As we went through the square, a large demonstration was taking place in the street. We then drove to the building that houses the Presidential offices - and again - there were several demonstrations going on outside that building as well. It appears the Ukrainians have found their voice!

We were escorted inside and were in awe of the beautiful artwork and architecture. A stark contrast from where we have been the last few days. We waited for President Yushchenko. He was very late, so we talked with his Foreign Minister while we waited. It was clear that the elections were a surprise - a real victory for democracy. The Foreign Minister said they won because the young people who had not been involved before really came out and became active. He said they were fighting for a voice in the government - for someone to listen to them, against the corruption of the past. Now they had to show that they could meet the expectations of the thousands who came out to make it happen.

Then the President arrived. The results of the dioxin poison were very clear and shocking when he walked in - how he could have survived that is amazing. But as soon as he started talking, we were immediately focused on his intense love for his country and his determination to make the changes that the citizens of his country spoke out for. It seems the so-called "Orange Revolution" and its victory really took everyone here by surprise.

But they also clearly understood the need to make progress, particularly on eliminating the corruption of the past!

During the entire meeting we could hear people chanting outside and drumming. Afterward we were told there were at least 4 demonstrations - one about the ownership of their soccer team, one for children's issues, and several others.

As the meeting ended, we took photos and headed out. Pres. Yushchenko walked out ahead of us. He was surrounded by demonstrators and was talking to them with great animation. I asked our Ambassador if that was dangerous. He said the President is well aware that his government needs to be open and transparent to keep the support of those who elected him. He is indeed a courageous man.

We then traveled to the Embassy - where we met with a number of the leaders of the Orange Revolution. They were all very animated and very energetic about their big win. We asked them what the 3 top issues were that the new government needed to accomplish to keep their trust and respect. They said - eliminate corruption, make progress on social issues (health care for example), and move their country into the World Trade Organization - and be recognized by other countries. I asked how much time they would give the new government to do this and they said - at the most - 9 months - which shows one challenge this new fledgling democracy faces. They will need to move quickly to show the 1,000's of newly activated young people that they will remember what passion brought them to power and make changes quickly. But talking to the leaders here, I think that they are so positive about their role in the world now of showing other nations around them how to move to democracy - that I think they may just do it! I know we all left certainly hoping they will!!! And pledging our support to help them do just that.

Then we headed to the airport and flew onto Paris. We went immediately to a visit with the Defense Minister Michele Alliot Marie, and we were proud that she was a woman, and a great role model. We discussed Iraq, Iran, China, Africa and the Middle East - and her knowledge was very impressive. Unfortunately, we all were travel-weary and needed to get back to check into our hotel.

Tomorrow will be another busy day. But I must say, I am continually impressed at the number of countries that really are attempting to allow the voices of their people to be heard through democratic governments and the importance of the United States in helping them achieve that.

I should add - that we were late to the Defense Minister's meeting here in Paris - - - because a student demonstration!!! was occurring in the middle of the square - (and this will now sound familiar) protesting new testing requirements. Police in riot gear were standing by - but hopefully were not going to interfere. It's so striking that students around the world seem to be tackling the same issue. I wonder what would happen if THEY all started talking with each other!

Off to dinner, and bed...and I will check in again tomorrow.

~ Patty
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Visiting Georgia - An Emerging Democracy - Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Logged March 23 at 7:00 am GMT + 3 hours (March 22 at 8:00 pm PST)

Hello all - it is 7 a.m. here in Georgia - after getting to bed around 1 - I woke up early to a very, very cold morning.

Last night we found that there's a lot of interest in our trip here. We were met at the airport by a big group of dignitaries from the Embassy, and a ton of press who watched us arrive.

It is a stark change from the Arab stops of the last few days, the climate is 180 degrees different (may snow today), and the history of Communism leaves a drastically different impression as well. Should be an interesting day.

The town from my window this morning looked old but clean (at 6 a.m. shopkeepers were out sweeping the streets in front of their stores). Looking forward to the day!

~ Patty

Logged March 23 at 4:30 pm GMT + 3 hours (5:30 am PST)

It is 4:30 here in Georgia Thursday afternoon. - We are back for a quick break.

Georgia is a country with many challenges - most visibly is the extreme poverty. We traveled through some regions with 90% unemployment. Clearly the change over from Communism to Democracy is critical - but it has left unbelievable challenges. The former government was quite corrupt. The new administration is trying to make reforms but it is tough - for example under communism energy was free, now they are hooking up meters and people are asking why should they pay.

Corruption was also rampant. For example, we've heard that cops on the street routinely stopped cars and told the drivers they "needed $2 for their family" ... and  they pretty much had to pay if they wanted to keep moving. Middle East Trip, Day 5 - Meeting Georgian Prime Minister Zurab HoghaideliThe new government has instituted reforms - like firing all the police (who got paid about $60/month), hiring 80% fewer new ones and paying them $2,000 a month. Good news - no corruption now. Bad news -- thousands of Georgians are unemployed. We started this morning with the Embassy Team to learn about Georgia policies and challenges including the work right now to try and get Russia to leave the two military bases they still occupy, the electricity shortages due to no infrastructure since their civil war in '92, and the building of two new pipelines from Russia through Georgia and who was going to own the land - a contentious issue we heard about all day.

We then met with the PM Zurab Noghaideli. He is very new, the previous PM died about a month ago from an apparent gas leak in his home. Noghaideli was very impressive and walked us through the changes they are working so hard to implement here.

We then met with the Speaker of the Parliament ... a woman, Nino Burjandadze who was very, very good. She's obviously very motivated to move her country toward a democracy that is independent and free from Russian control. I really liked her. My favorite moment in that meeting was when Sen. Reid tried to open his bottle of water and couldn't do it and she interrupted her speaking and said, "Things in Georgia are always more complicated than they look." That certainly has been true of everything we have seen.

We then got in the bus and headed out through town and the countryside to a Middle East Trip, Day 5 - Meeting with the Georgian Speaker of Parliamentmilitary installation. I was struck by the extreme poverty - ramshackle housing, sewage running down from houses into the river, men standing outside everywhere (they have no jobs), and as we got to the countryside people cutting limbs off trees to heat their houses and farmers trying to till very hard soil in small little patches to plant potatoes to eat. This is a difficult challenge that our country must be aware of. Georgia may well be one of the countries who gets new Millinium Challenge assistance from the US. Later we toured the military facility where U.S. soldiers are training Georgians and then came back and toured a church built in the 4th Century - one of the few that survived the communist rule. It is Lent and many people were lighting and leaving candles as we went in. They handed each of us these candles to leave as well. It was a nice moment.

We then went to lunch with members of the Embassy and officials from Georgia to talk about their many challenges.

We then went to meet with the President Saakashvili. He is a very enigmatic character – reminded me of Bill Clinton - very charismatic and could just talk forever and make all problems seem so simple. He was elected by 96% margin - so people here must love him too....but it was clear that the challenges of poverty and infrastructure are not going to be solved by talk.

We just returned to the hotel and will leave shortly for a state dinner. But I must say that my impression so far is of a country that is struggling to move into democracy -from a very different perspective and history than the countries we have been in so far...but they too are challenged by poverty and corruption that they must overcome and that our country is seen as the one country in the world that will reach out a hand and help them get there.

~ Patty

Logged March 23 at 8:30 pm GMT + 3 hours (9:30 am PST)

It is 8:30 Georgia time - we have just returned for the night here. After a short break this afternoon we went to a reception with the State Department...we had about 8 people from Washington State who work here in Georgia at the reception. It was great fun to catch all of them up with politics and weather and sports from Washington State and to get their perspective on Georgia.

I felt very positive after hearing them talk about their work here: that this is a country that has more hope than challenges, that people here really felt theyMiddle East Trip, Day 5 - Speaking With the Georgian Press were getting past the horrendous corruption problems that plagued them over the past decade and that they were finally moving towards some positive reforms here, eliminating payoffs and corruption and really putting in place the capability to move towards democracy. The challenges will be the poverty and unemployment and vast infrastructure weaknesses (in energy and roads and buildings). But they all felt positive they would move forward - because the people here are finally seeing the benefits of democracy.

We then went to a State Dinner - and watched in amazement as more than 50 dishes were served to us, and many toasts from the Prime Minister and the President. We were treated to performances from music groups with folk instruments and songs that were really beautiful. It is really rewarding to sit at dinner half way across the world with leaders who are committed to making their world a better place and who made it clear that they could not be where they are without the friendship and support of the United States. We left with new friends and new allies and commitments to work with each other from across the world.
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Into Iraq - Visting the Troops - Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Logged March 22 at 6:10 am GMT + 2 hours ( March 21 at 7:10 pm PST)

Good morning to everyone. It is 6:10 a.m in Kuwait. We are setting off in a moment to go to the airport to fly into Iraq. We woke up here in Kuwait to a beautiful sunrise over the Persian Gulf. News here of women trying to fight to get the right to vote. I feel like I have stepped back in time! Also, news of women getting DWV's - Driving Without Veils.

I know it will be a day I won't forget!

~ Patty

Logged March 22 at 11:45 pm GMT + 3 hours (12:45 am PST)

Hello to all, it is 11:45 at night in Tbilisi, Georgia - it is cold, and a far cry from where we started this morning.

Since my last email - We got to the airport and immediately boarded a C-130. There were a number of soldiers on board with us as well as other supplies being brought into Baghdad. We sat in seats lined on the wall and took deep breaths as we took off from Kuwait. Most people slept as we flew - it was hot in the plane - but I just sat there and kept thinking how amazing this was and about where I was going and wondering what it would be like. We had to wear earplugs because it was so loud and before I knew it a soldier gave us the 20 minutes out sign and we had to don our flak jackets and helmets. They are heavy! but even I did not question putting on a helmet. Suddenly the plane just started dropping, we did this amazing zig zag in - sort of spiraled down very fast - and my ears felt horrendous - but I noticed the soldiers were putting their fingers in their ears - so I did too and that helped. It was like a bad Disneyland ride as we veered left, right up and down to avoid any "incoming"...and I have to admit my stomach was in my throat. But the pilots were fantastic and had us on the ground in extremely fast fashion.

We exited the plane and the scene was stark - soldiers, machine guns, maneuvering us quickly into what they called ice cream trucks - that looked just like that but were bullet and "IED" reinforced. We drove across the Middle East Trip, Day 4 - Flying Over Baghdad    Into the Green Zoneairport and the roads were awful - torn up, and bumpy - even with a 30 pound flak jacket on it was bouncing me 6 inches in the air! General Petraeus escorted us to a training site about a mile away to watch Iraqi soldiers being trained. Gen Petraeus was really gracious, we watched the live fire training - and he talked about how we are moving forward to train them - this has been a major bone of contention about how many soldiers are really prepared. He sought to assure us that we were moving forward in a timely fashion.

We then bounced back in the "Ice Cream Truck" to the airport, and boarded a "helo" and with our flak jackets and helmets we sat in these helicopters and flew out - with a machine gun 6 inches in front of me pointed out the plane as we rode 25 feet above ground. I was shocked at the poverty below me - sewage water in the streets, piles of rubble where buildings used to be, there is tremendous work that will have to take place in the city. But really odd - was that amidst the squalor were these palaces that Saddam built - just kind of mocking the poverty surrounding them.

We landed in the Green Zone and were met with serious security. We went into a side room and met with the Charge D'affairs for a briefing (he is temporary Ambassador till new one is named). We were then joined by General Casey for a briefing on the military side.

I did have the opportunity to ask both the Charge d'affairs and General Casey about the new constitution and govt of Iraq and whether women would become 2nd class citizens. They both tried to reassure me that they thought Middle East Trip, Day 4 - Meeting with General Caseywomen would be well represented. I also asked Gen'l Casey about our men and women and services when they came home - he emphasized the need for health care especially because of the stress they live with every day there. In fact the airport had been closed shortly before we landed because of a mortar attack, and there had been a mortar attack that fell a few feet short of the Green Zone last night. I ate lunch with 2 Marines and a State Dept. employee from Washington. We had a great conversation about the Huskies and they were ecstatic at the success. They intend to watch the game even though it plays at 3 a.m. their time!

We then went back outside and got in vans under intense security even though we remained in the Green Zone and traveled to another palace where we met with the Shia Leader Prime Minister designate al-Jaafari. He gave us a very in depth excellent report of progress in putting together a government. It was clear that there were tremendous challenges but it is a unique opportunity at this time to forge ahead. I asked him again about the role of women, he assured me they would not be second class citizens in Iraq.

We left to get in vans and the security guard warned me to be careful not to Middle East Trip, Day 4 - Having Lunch with Washington State Marinesstep backward into the pool - I joked about getting wet, he said quite seriously "Ma'am there are crocodiles in there". We then convoyed to the convention center where the new parliament is being set up. It was inside the Green Zone but even more intense security. We were put in a room where we first met with the Kurdish Leader Mr. Faili, who talked about making sure the minority Kurds have a part in the government, and how they were watching closely. Then we met with the Sunni Leader, Dr. Hachim Al-Hassani who gave us his perspective. I think all see it as a time of both hope and danger with much work to be done before a government is in place later this month.

We then convoyed to the helicopters, boarded, flew back to the airport, boarded the C-130 and headed home. We of course did a crazy zig pattern up to get out and believe me we were all relieved after 1/2 hour to take off the flak jackets and relax for the first time all day.

Tomorrow will be another day.

~ Patty

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Meeting with Washington State National Guard in Kuwait - Monday, March 21, 2005
Logged March 21 at 8: 25 pm GMT + 2 hours (10: 25 am PST)

It has been a fascinating, educational and tiring day. We met this morning with Prime Minister Sharon - he painted a very tough but slightly optimistic Middle East Trip, Day 3 - Meeting Prime Minister Ariel Sharonpicture of the future of peace talks. He said that with Arafat's death new hope is there, but that the window is short and security is absolutely the bottom line. That all will fail if terrorism is not stopped. He also emphasized that we need to make sure we support the Palestinian Authority - as they must have infrastructure improvements. It will also legitimize their new government if we support them. I found that interesting. However, he did say that we should verify where all aid went so it would not go to terrorist activity. What a challenge! We then left and drove to the airport and boarded plane to fly to Amman, Jordan. Kuwait will not let planes fly directly from Israel! so we had to fly there, land for 10 minutes and take off again. Nothing but desert for miles and miles and miles. Then we landed in Kuwait - and could see oil wells burning and lots of sand.

We drove to Camp Arifjan - a huge military base here. I then went separately from the rest of the group to meet with our Washington State soldiers. ItMiddle  
East Trip, Day 3 - Meeting With WA State Guardsmen was a fantastic experience...they were all very excited to meet with us, we talked about the situation in Iraq, their concern about re-deployment (most had been here a year), their concerns about their families, health care, whether veterans service would be there for them. We then had dinner with the troops and ate in the mess hall - lots of calories there! Great conversation with troops who wanted to know latest details of everything from home! They also wanted us to know that they had done a lot of good here and that their work had been worthwhile. They fear the media is not showing the good side of their work. I can understand that - they have given up an awful lot to be here and don't want it to be in vain.

We then had a security briefing on Iraq from the top generals in the field in preparation for our trip tomorrow. I am wondering how I am going to wear a 30 lb flak jacket for the entire day...

Tomorrow up early to head on the C130. More to come!

~ Patty

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Touring Old City/Jerusalem, Meetings in Tel Aviv - Sunday, March 20, 2005
Logged March 20 at 2: 27 pm GMT + 2 hours (4:27 am PST)

We departed the hotel this morning and went to the Old City. We walked to the (Western) Wall, where Jews come from all over Israel and the world to Middle East Trip, Day 2 - Visiting the Western Wallpray. It is a very holy site, and one that has seen some terrorist activity in past few years. We then drove around and went into the Muslim Holy Site and toured the two mosques that are there. It was very heavily guarded at the Lions Gate where we entered. All the women were required to cover our heads, and everyone had to take off their shoes. It was clear from our guide that one of the biggest concerns of the Muslim community here is that they do not want to be cut off from their Holy sites.

It is so amazing here to see so many religions sharing such a very small space that all claim as the center of their religion.

We theMiddle 
East Trip, Day 2 - Visiting Dome of the Rockn traveled to the Embassy and had an excellent briefing from the Ambassador and his am on both the Palestinian/Israeli peace process as well as Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. We then went back to the Old City and met the rest of the delegation for lunch and had an amazing array of Arabic food sitting next to a wall that was built in the 16th century.

This afternoon we will head to Tel Aviv and a meeting with Shimon Peres which I am really looking forward to. I first met Peres when Arafat and Rabin signed the Peace Process on the White House lawn back in 1993. He is a very engaging and amazing leader and it will be fascinating to hear his perspective now.

~ Patty

Logged March 21 at 7:00 am GMT + 2 hours (March 20 at 9:00 pm PST)

It is Monday a.m. We are up early to check out and head to a meeting with PM Sharon, then will fly to Kuwait through Jordan in a few hours.

Last night we had an amazing meeting with Shimon Peres. He has always been such a wonderful person to listen to - I first met him back in 1993 when he came to DC. He is 82 but still as vigorous as ever, and very wise. He said Middle East Trip, Day 2 - Meeting with Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peresthe Peace Process is difficult, and that security is such a huge issue here that it is hard to move forward. I think everyone hopes that with the new Palestinian leadership movement will be made. But no one is expressing huge optimism for anything immediate. The issues are too large and complex. We had dinner at a Yemeni Restaurant in Tel Aviv. It was really great - so many different things to try - and we all loved it. But all were tired and we came back to the Hotel around 9 to get packed and ready for an early morning today.

In a few minutes we are off to meet Sharon - it will be interesting to hear him and see where he thinks negotiations are.

I will check in hopefully tonight from Kuwait - I am very excited about going to the Base there and meeting and talking with our troops from Washington State. I am so curious about their experiences and what they see as progress or not there. But importantly as a member of the Veterans Committee what they believe we need to be doing to make sure they, their families and veterans are taken care of.

~ Patty

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Meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah - Saturday, March 19, 2005
Logged March 19 at 5:24 pm GMT + 2 hours (7:24 am PST)

Hello to all. We are in Israel - and just checking in to give you a quick update.

We arrived after a very, very long flight here this morning at 10 a.m. local Middle East Trip, Day 1 - A View of the Old Citytime in Tel Aviv. It seemed really amazing that just 13 hours earlier we were in DC. In just 1/2 day we have transformed into the Middle East, where the culture, the history, the issues are so different than what we were debating just 24 hours ago in the U.S. Senate. We did not sleep much, but rallied despite that and headed down to get a briefing from the Consul General and Lt. General William Ward. The Consul General gave us a quick background on Israeli Palestinian negotiations and the recent cease fire, then introduced Lt. Gen. Ward who has only been here a week but has been assigned from the State Dept to oversee security negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

We then got in vans and headed to Ramallah. Going through the security checkpoints into the Palestinian territory was very marked...from a lot of new construction of buildings and roads, we immediately saw poverty and very badly deteriorating buildings and roads.

After meandering through an almost abandoned area of streets we came upon the compound of Prime Minister Almad Quraya'. He briefed us on where he saw security, he was glad about the cease fire, but felt strongly that without the assurance of security, return of prisoners as he defined them, and Middle East Trip, Day 1 - Meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurayaeconomic relief it would be difficult. We pushed him on the need for stopping terrorist activities and told him that the US wanted to be helpful but was watching carefully the actions of the new government particularly where it concerned Hamas. We then traveled a short distance (and security was REALLY tight!), to meet with the Interior Minister Nasser Yusif. His job is to oversee the implementation of security. When I asked him about the connection between economics and security he told me a story of going to the Gaza area a year or so ago and meeting with 35 or 36 young boys under the age of 15, all of them had lost their hands in explosions when they threw bombs and pulled the pin too early, or threw it too late. He talked about how the reason they did this was that they were the sole support for their families and were paid money to throw the bombs. He said Hamas can recruit because these families are desperate.

I noticed that at both of these meetings the only pictures on the walls were of Arafat. The buildings themselves were crumbling old, had only one bathroom, the elevators were not working, paint was peeling. It is hard to imagine how they can forge ahead when it is so clear they need to spend an awful lot just on basic infrastructure needs. However, it was clear to all of us that they needed to show they could stop terrorism and would be clear in doing that before they could get more help from the US. It is a very difficult situation.

We then traveled back through the security checkpoints where you could Middle East Trip, Day 1 - Meeting with Palestinian Finance Ministervisibly see signs of blackened buildings that were clearly bombings. Reminders everywhere of the dangers there.

Back in Jerusalem we stopped at several vantage points to see the wall. Very clear that it is making a difference in security here, and completely understanding the need to protect themselves, but the wall as it is planned will divide some neighborhoods and create additional problems for the fragile peace process.

All very very difficult and challenging issues.

We are now off to hear from the Finance Minister on their need for aid to Palestinians, then a quick dinner and I think all of us will be in bed early. Trying to stay awake after just an hour of sleep on the plane is not easy. But we are all finding this small country to be so fascinating...the history of so many cultures, religions, people so tightly confined in this space is truly amazing to see.

~ Patty

Logged March 20 at 7:36 am GMT + 2 hours (March 19 at 9:36 pm PST )

We met with Finace Minister Salam Fayyad after I wrote the first e-mail - he told us the PLA is making tremendous efforts to reform their accounting practices so that foreign aid will be transparent.

~ Patty
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