Middle East conflict plays role in Senate race

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders wants a ceasefire in the Middle East and says the U.S. could do more to broker a peace agreement in the region.

But Richard Tarrant, Sanders main Republican rival, does not support a ceasefire. He says Israel should be free to defeat terrorists who threaten its people.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The growing conflict in the Middle East is playing a role in the U.S. Senate race.

Last week, Republican Richard Tarrant charged that Sanders is inconsistent in his support for Israel. He says the congressman twice voted “present” on congressional resolutions that condemned Palestinian terrorism.

(Tarrant) “Either vote ‘yes’ or vote ‘no’, but to vote ‘present’ twice in condemning terrorist attacks in Israel tells me he’s not very consistent and in fact he’s soft on terrorism.”

(Dillon) Sanders says it’s nonsense to suggest that he’s soft on terror. He says he’s also a strong supporter of Israel. But he also hopes for a quick ceasefire in the war, and says that Israel must accept a two-state solution to end the conflict.

(Sanders) “Israel has the right to exist, period. But what we also have got to do is create a lasting peace in that region. I happen to think that will be a two state solution. And the United States has to be an even-handed power broker in bringing people together. I think that is a difficult task, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”

(Dillon) Tarrant says he believes in a two-state solution as well. But unlike Sanders, he does not support a ceasefire right now. He says Israel has its enemies on the run, and should be allowed to continue to fight.

(Tarrant) “I would like to see Hezbollah finished off. They’re a bad, bad group of people that are lobbing mortars and missiles into cities without any attempt to be precise in targeting. I mean, that’s terrorism of the worst kind.”

(Dillon) Sanders says the war in Iraq has distracted from U.S. efforts to work for peace in the region.

(Sanders) “I think it is fair to say that had we not been involved in Iraq in the last three and a half years for example and had paid more attention to trying to bring together people in the Middle East, perhaps the situation might not have deteriorated to the level that it has right now.”

(Dillon) On that point, Tarrant agrees with Sanders. He says U.S. involvement in Iraq has compromised its peace-making role in the Middle East.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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