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Rep. Lee Zeldin returns from Middle East trip

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks at a news conference

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks at a news conference in Riverhead on May 16, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who spent Christmas week in the Middle East visiting U.S. service members and diplomats, said he was impressed with the vetting process for Syrian refugees who are leaving emergency encampments.

It was the third Christmas that Zeldin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had traveled to the Middle East. Zeldin made the congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Jordan with three other members of Congress Dec. 23 to 28.

Zeldin said that more than in past years, service members wanted to talk about U.S. domestic policies, including changes to the federal tax system and political partisanship.

“They were thirsty to talk about what they see on TV and what they’re seeing on social media,” Zeldin said.

He said Arab allies he met with in countries including Kuwait and Jordan emphasized their opposition to President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Trump’s plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Zeldin said he supports the recognition and embassy move.

Also, U.S. military leaders emphasized “over and over again” the need to fund the Defense Department for the entire year, rather than using continuing resolutions for short-term funding. “There are many aspects of the government that operate off a continuing resolution. It’s difficult to do so for the military,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin, who served four years in the Army, including a tour in Iraq, said he met with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and with Syrian refugees.

He said he was “really pleased with the progress being made on the vetting front,” to determine refugees’ backgrounds. He said Syrians he met with wanted to return to Syria and help rebuild, but conditions were still too dangerous there.

Zeldin also recalled that during a breakfast on Christmas in Kabul, Afghanistan, he was a few hundred feet from where a suicide bomber struck, killing six people. He was inside the dining hall and did not hear the blast, but said those immediately outside the building came rushing in.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the House committee Rep. Lee Zeldin sits on.

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