Sanders departs for Israel, Saudi Arabia

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders is embarking on a weeklong trip to Saudi Arabia as part of an official congressional visit. Sanders says he wants the delegation to deliver a clear message to Saudi leaders about the need for political reforms in that country.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Early Tuesday morning, a jet carrying five members of the House Government Reform Committee will take off from Washington to fly to the Middle East. Congressman Bernie Sanders will be part of this delegation.

The group is headed for Saudi Arabia but it will first stop in Israel to be briefed about anti-terrorism efforts. Because it’s not possible to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, the delegation must briefly touch down in Jordan before completing its journey.

Sanders says he’s going on the trip for two reasons. The first is to learn more about Saudi Arabia:

(Sanders) “I happen to think that Saudi Arabia is one of the mystery countries of the world. It’s an extremely closed and repressive society. It’s an incredibly wealthy society, which – among other things – we believe is helping to fund some terrorism around the world, putting money into Osama Bin Laden and some of his friends. So I think to understand what goes on in the Middle East is to understand what goes on in Saudi Arabia and we just don’t know enough about that.”

(Kinzel) However Sanders says the trip is more than just a fact finding mission. He wants the delegation to raise issues concerning human rights when it meets with Saudi leaders:

(Sanders) “I think it’s important for them to understand the concern that we have about the nature of not only their repressive society, but exporting their particular ideology. They fund a lot of the schools in Pakistan, which are extremely reactionary, which regard people of other religions as literally as enemies, which continue to subjugate women. So I think it’s important to have a discussion and let those folks know where we are coming from.”

(Kinzel) The delegation is also scheduled to visit with some of the 5,000 American troops who are stationed in Saudi Arabia.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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