Biden Wraps Up Foreign Trip

Vice President-elect Joe Biden wrapped up his last foreign trip as a U.S. senator Tuesday after six days and a handful of stops in Kuwait, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Biden and his traveling companion, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), will brief President-elect Barack Obama on their findings Wednesday afternoon. The three of them are expected to make remarks afterward at Obama’s transition headquarters in Washington.

Biden returns from the trip having met with a number of heads of state, toured the Afghan border, received one of Pakistan’s highest awards and dined with his son, Beau, serving with the Delaware National Guard in Iraq.

Biden also assured Iraqi leaders that the incoming Obama administration wants a troop withdrawal that takes into consideration security conditions in the country.

"He said that Obama is committed to withdraw but he wants the withdrawal to be a responsible one. Obama does not want to waste the security gains that have been achieved," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told the Associated Press.

Obama pledged during his election campaign to withdraw troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, but he has more recently said he will rely on U.S. commanders on the ground when making a decision on withdrawal.

Also since the election, the Bush administration signed a security agreement with Iraq that sets a timetable for withdrawal by January 1, 2012.

Biden assured Iraqi leaders that an Obama administration will adhere to the timetable in the agreement, the Associated Press reported Al-Dabbagh saying.

In an interview last month Biden said the incoming Obama administration will have troops out of Iraq in less than two years.

“We will have combat troops out of Iraq by the next election – before that,” Biden said on CNN’s Larry King Live.

Planning for the trip began shortly after the election. Biden stayed in his Senate seat so he was able to travel with a congressional delegation in his capacity as outgoing chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Biden, who was received and referred to as the Vice President-elect most everywhere he went during his trip, will officially resign as a Senator on Thursday before being sworn in as vice president on January 20.

Biden made no reported public remarks during his trip. A transition official familiar with the trip said Biden’s private comments during meetings, as reported, were consistent with things he has said in the past.

After being sworn into his seventh Senate term last week, Biden told reporters, “I’m going to come back and report where I think things stand in each of those countries now.”

He spent the bulk of his trip in Iraq and Afghanistan – two days in each country.

In Iraq he met with Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as well as U.S. commanders and generals in the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, and the commander of the Iraqi Army in Basra.

At least eight people were reported dead from bombings in Baghdad as Biden arrived there on Monday, where he met with Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the multi-national force; U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

He began his trip discussing Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, relations with Pakistan and the ongoing violence in the Middle East with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kuwait.

He met with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, American troops and commanders of U.S. forces there. He also visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And in Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani presented Biden with one of the country’s highest awards for his work toward democracy.

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