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Published: Tuesday, 6/5/2012

Portman wraps up Mideast trip

Afghanistan, Israel among stops on 6-day congressional tour

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) returns to U.S. soil today after a six-day tour congressional tour of the Middle East.

Mr. Portman said he spent two "very productive" days in Afghanistan, and visited Israel, Jordan, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

In a telephone news conference Monday, he said he was in the Middle East as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its subcommittee on emerging threats that oversees special operations and counterterrorism. He also is on the contractors subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

Mr. Portman said he urged Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to use the Lima tank plant for production of a new military vehicle called NAMER.

Noting the transition that is under way to end combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014, he said the oversight of special operations is important.

"This is going to be a part of our military that is going to be increasingly looked to and relied on during this transition. We've got to make sure they're prepared," Senator Portman said.

He denied the trip was designed to showcase his foreign policy expertise as a potential candidate for vice president, saying it was planned well in advance. He said he didn't announce the trip in advance for security reasons.

He said he started the trip by himself and then connected with two members of a House of Representatives delegation.

Senator Portman said he spent an afternoon with a group of Green Berets in a small forward base in Afghanistan 30 miles from Pakistan, where the group was training local police.

"It's a dangerous area, a dangerous job we're doing," Mr. Portman said.

He also described meals with Marines from Ohio and with Ohio National Guardsmen at Bagram Air Base, and of meeting unexpectedly in the Bagram hospital with one of the gunners who flew a helicopter in which he was transported who had been shot in the arm by a sniper later the same day.

"He was already there sitting up in bed, he'd already been awarded the Purple Heart, and [he] was saying he was getting ready to go back in the fight, so that's the attitude of so many of those guys," Mr. Portman said.

The senator portrayed Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as allies and good trading partners of the United States.

"They are pro-America, they're interested in investment from Ohio," he said.

Of his visit in Israel, Mr. Portman said the new coalition in power, the National Unity Government, enjoys one of the largest majorities the country has seen in decades.

"This coalition could provide an opportunity to move the peace process forward that's been stalled for so long," Mr. Portman said.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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