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Cardin eyes changes on Egypt, Turkey and around the world as he takes powerful Senate foreign post

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Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., departs the Senate floor in the Capitol, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, in Washington. Menendez is facing federal charges of bribery and he met with the Democratic Caucus on Thursday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The brand new chairman of the Senate International Relations Committee pointed Thursday to doable coverage shifts affecting Egypt, Turkey, the conflict in Ukraine and different points across the globe as he took over the highly effective management of the panel, changing indicted Sen. Bob Menendez.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a veteran Maryland Democrat, may have an abbreviated time period main the committee as a result of his time period expires in January 2025 and he isn’t in search of reelection. He described him unexpectedly inheriting the chairmanship, with its energy to assist form how the US approaches the remainder of the world, as a “pinch your self” second.

Cardin spoke to reporters below the chandelier and vaulted ceiling of the historic Nineteenth-century committee room on his first full day on the job.

Menendez was indicted on Sept. 22 on fees he and his spouse, Nadine, accepted bribes together with money and gold bars in transactions that included utilizing his place as committee chairman to affect some U.S. coverage choices in favor of Egypt’s autocratic authorities.

The indictment alleges that included serving to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s authorities overcome human-rights restrictions limiting a small portion of what’s greater than $1 billion in annual U.S. army assist to Egypt.

Menendez and his spouse have pleaded not responsible.

Cardin, earlier than turning into chairman, had condemned the Biden administration’s choice this 12 months to override a human-rights prohibition on $235 million of this 12 months’s army assist to Egypt.

The administration cited nationwide safety pursuits for waiving the human rights restrictions, regardless that the State Division acknowledged Egypt had made no progress on detaining journalists, writers and rights advocates, in addition to different human rights abuses.

Requested Thursday if he meant to cease the distribution of that cash if it might nonetheless be stopped, Cardin stated he was “taking a look at his choices.” He stated he needed to provide the administration and a few lawmakers a listening to on the problem earlier than reaching a closing choice.

As chairman, Cardin can place holds on some funding and gross sales.

Cardin signaled one other break, relating to Turkey, a NATO associate that for years has sought to purchase superior warplanes from the U.S. however has been repeatedly blocked, together with by Menendez. Menendez had positioned a maintain barring the sale of F-16s to Turkey, arguing — partly — that he was involved about Turkey having extra air energy than Greece, its neighbor and rival.

Cardin made clear he was open to contemplating transferring ahead on the gross sales, if he’s happy with factors, together with any further menace to Greece and on Turkey’s human rights.

Turkey has used the veto energy held by every NATO member to dam Sweden’s entry into the Western army alliance, regardless that the U.S. and European allies need Sweden within the bloc to strengthen NATO’s northern flank in opposition to Russia.

Turkey has linked its getting the F-16s to its choice on Sweden becoming a member of NATO.

Cardin, who attended a gathering of NATO ambassadors this week, stated Turkey has indicated it will clear the best way for Sweden’s membership within the first a part of October.

The facility of Senate International Relations Committee chairs to provide a thumbs up or thumbs down on some key U.S. choices makes the committee’s chairs a minimum of as well-known in some international nations as they’re in the US.

In Turkey, some information media are celebrating Menendez’s authorized difficulties. A CNN Turk political panel gleefully confirmed the indicted senator as a sobbing SpongeBob SquarePants.

Ahmet Hakan, a journalist with shut ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration, used his column in Sunday’s Hurriyet newspaper to touch upon the case in opposition to Menendez, who he stated opposed Turkey “to the loss of life.”

“Collectively we are able to have fun it with…laughter: Hahaha!” he wrote.

In Latin America, Menendez, whose mother and father immigrated from Cuba, was extensively seen as utilizing his affect to dam any additional thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba, whilst he helped some Latino causes and politicians within the U.S.

Former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray instructed the AP the autumn of Menendez can be vital for his island. “In any case, the strain goes down,” Alzugaray stated.

Tellingly, Cuba didn’t even come up as Cardin ran down a listing of his international coverage priorities with reporters Thursday.

Cardin described working to keep up the U.S. move of cash and arms to Ukraine in opposition to invading Russian forces as “by far the best precedence” for him.

It’s one he sees as essential to the US’ personal safety and its capability to affect international affairs, he made clear. Ukraine’s supporters in Congress ought to do a greater job of constructing that case to Individuals, he stated.

“China’s watching” whether or not Individuals stand by Ukraine’s protection, to information China’s choice on how far it pushes to say its declare to Taiwan, Cardin stated.

“North Korea’s watching. Iran’s watching,” he stated.

Cardin additionally addressed the Biden administration’s push to dealer an settlement for the primary broad diplomatic relations between U.S. ally Israel and Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia as a “game-changer within the area,” and one he was enthusiastic about. Biden officers and different supporters say the deal would assist stabilize the Center East and increase the economies of the Center East.

“There’s recognition that that is going to occur. There’s going to significant modifications,” Cardin stated, saying that he was seeing conversations involving Israel and the Palestinians “that I didn’t assume we might have” as a part of these broader negotiations. He gave no particulars.

Saudi Arabia, as a situation for agreeing to the deal, is asking the U.S. for safety commitments and for help in growing its civilian nuclear program.

Cardin stated he can be lively in setting the phrases for any such U.S.-Saudi settlement. “It should meet the best requirements, and there’s obtained to be guardrails.” And so far as “any safety settlement that the US commits to assist defend one other nation to ensure it’s at all times in our nationwide safety curiosity to get engaged,” he stated.

Points on Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights report would have to be addressed, he stated, and handed reporters a printout on a Saudi man rights teams say has been tortured and imprisoned over tweets vital of the Saudi authorities.

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Andrew Wilks contributed from Istanbul and Andrea Rodriguez from Havana.

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