Rubio embarks on trip to Israel and Jordan

Republican rising star Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: 'I didn't run for the Senate to run for president again' Sunday shows preview: Next steps after Trump upheaval O'Malley gives Trump a nickname: 'Chicken Donald' MORE (R-Fla.) departed for the Middle East on Saturday, beginning a journey that could do much to burnish the possible 2016 presidential candidate's foreign policy credentials.

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Rubio will visit Israel and Jordan and will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad and Jordan's King Abdullah.

His trip comes as Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryDozens of Clinton meetings left off State schedule: report Overnight Cybersecurity: Sit-in disrupts cyber hearings | Trump tries to defend claim Clinton was hacked Kerry backs government access to encrypted data MORE prepares to visit the region in his inaugural trip in his new position, and ahead of President Obama's first trip to Israel in March.

“America's friendship with Israel is a truly special one, and we must continue to do all we can to support this beacon of democracy, religious freedom and free enterprise in the heart of an unstable region,” Rubio said in a statement announcing his trip.

Obama's nominee for defense secretary, former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelThere's still time for another third-party option Hagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill MORE (R-Neb.) has come under fire for statements critical of Israel and lobbyists for Israel, as well as for voting against tough economic sanctions against Iran.

“As Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, we must continue to apply pressure through every possible means in order to prevent a nuclear Iran,” said Rubio, who this week delivered the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address.

Rubio also highlighted that he will be visiting the United States embassy in each country. Republicans, including Rubio, voted to filibuster Hagel's nomination on Thursday in part to pressure the White House to release more information on an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Rubio serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. His star status was marred slightly this week by his awkward State of the Union response in which he gulped from a bottle of water.

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