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Friday, December 08, 2006

A hopeful sign


December 7, 2006


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today introduced legislation that would extend visa-free travel privileges to our allies in the Global War on Terror.

The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2006 would improve cooperation with key allies while strengthening U.S. national security interests and promoting U.S. economic competitiveness. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) are original co-sponsors of the bill.

“There are many countries helping us thwart terrorism around the world and they should be rewarded for their continued cooperation,” Sen. Voinovich said. “This legislation will improve both our national security and economic interests while helping to solidify these relationships and improve good will toward the United States for years to come. I will work closely with the administration and my colleagues in the Senate as we move forward to show our allies that we appreciate their help in this historic fight.”

Sen. Voinovich’s legislation authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of State, to expand the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to countries that support the United States and are prepared to do everything in their power to help keep terrorists from crossing our borders.

“I believe this bill effectively demonstrates Congressional concern yet does not seek to dictate to the Administration which of our strategic partners should be included in the program,” Sen. Lugar said. “Such compromises are the hallmark of good legislation, and I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law.”

Sen. Akaka said: “This bill will enable the United States to validate its affinity with those nations that share America’s hopes for a better and peaceful future while contributing to our mutual economic well being.”

“I have fought for years to expand the VWP so our allies can visit family and conduct business in the United States without standing in line to get a visa,” said Sen. Mikulski. “We know that our borders will be no less secure because of these visitors. But we know that our alliance will be more secure because of this legislation.”

Sen. Voinovich believes that expanding the VWP will bring clear benefits for our immediate and long-term national security interests. The countries would be eligible to participate in the program only after the executive branch certifies that they do not pose a security or law enforcement threat to the United States.

All participants would be required to implement enhanced travel security requirements, negotiate new agreements on counterterrorism cooperation and critical information-sharing and further demonstrate their close cooperation with the United States in the Global War on Terror. The legislation would also require the U.S. government to report to Congress on its plans for further enhancing security standards for existing VWP countries.

“In addition to promoting U.S. national security interests, my bill will increase business ties and tourism, benefiting our economy and competitiveness for years to come,” Sen. Voinovich said. “This is not only a sign of gratitude but a smart move that will advance America’s strategic interests.”

The VWP was established in 1986 to improve relations with U.S. allies and benefit the U.S. economy. The program permitted nationals from selected countries to enter the United States for tourism or business without a visa for up to 90 days. Currently, 27 countries participate in the program.

Although numerous countries have expressed a desire to participate in the VWP, and a willingness to cooperate with the necessary security requirements, no new countries have been admitted since 1999. President Bush recently called on Congress to expand the VWP to deserving nations, and has previously identified 13 “Road Map” countries as potential candidates for future participation. These include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and South Korea.


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