Pelosi, Syrian president talk despite White House gripes

first_imgDAMASCUS, Syria – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her delegation said they had frank words with President Bashar Assad and other senior Syrian officials here on Wednesday, pressing the president over Syria’s support for militant groups and insisting that his government block militants seeking to cross into Iraq and join insurgents there. Delegation members said they sought to persuade Assad to distance himself from Iran, Syria’s ally in the growing confrontation with the so-called quartet of moderate Arab states – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. They also said Tom Lantos, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he asked Assad how someone “of his intelligence and knowledge of the world could have common cause with President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has denied the Holocaust and calls for the elimination of Israel.” Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Pelosi announced that she had conveyed a message to Assad from Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that he was ready to negotiate for peace. Shortly afterwards, however, Olmert’s office issued a clarification of his message, insisting that, “although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East.” To launch serious peace negotiations, the statement said, Syria must cease its support of terror, cease its sponsoring of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations, refrain from providing weapons to Hezbollah and bringing about the destabilizing of Lebanon, cease its support of terror in Iraq, and relinquish the strategic ties it is building with the extremist regime in Iran. Members of the delegation said that among the issues they discussed was the case of the three Israeli soldiers being held by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran, and the Palestinian group Hamas. In addition to Lantos, the delegation includes Reps. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles, Louise M. Slaughter of New York, Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, all Democrats, as well as David L. Hobson, Republican of Ohio. The lawmakers said they also sought to emphasize Syria’s importance in bringing peace to Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories. “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi told reporters after her meetings. Her visit has been strongly criticized by the Bush administration and dismissed by some in the Middle East as a play for domestic politics. At the White House on Tuesday, President George W. Bush told reporters that he saw little point in talking to Syria now.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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