|Nancy Pelosi meeting with Syrian foriegn minister Walid Al Moualim|
Pelosi’s trip to Syria was only one of several trips to Syria by Republican and Democratic members of Congress in recent months. These trips come following the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group report that recommended U.S. diplomatic engagement with both Syria and Iran. ADC said it was encouraged by Speaker Pelosi’s statement, “We came in friendship, hope and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.”
Pelosi’s delegation also included Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Nick J. Rahall II (D-WV), Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Henry A. Waxman (D-CA.), David L. Hobson (R-OH), and Tom Lantos (D-CA). Rep Lantos, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “The meeting reinforced sharply the potential benefits of talking to Syria. This is only the beginning of our constructive dialogue with Syria and we hope to build on this visit.”
Pelosi met Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, on Wednesday and conveyed a message from Ehud Olmert, the Israeli premier, that Israel was ready for peace talks.
She said al-Assad responded that he was ready to restart peace talks too.
“[Our] meeting with the president enabled us to communicate a message from Prime Minister Olmert that Israel was ready to engage in peace talks,” Pelosi said. Olmert later denied the assertion.
She added that al-Assad “was ready to engage in negotiations [for] peace with Israel”.
The White House criticized Pelosi’s visit as undermining U.S. efforts to isolate Syria.
Syria’s official news agency quoted al-Assadas telling Pelosi: “Syria has adopted the Arab initiative. Its strategic choice is peace.”
A spokesman for the White House national security council called the visit “counterproductive.” Pelosi said she and other members of her congressional delegation told al-Assad their concerns about fighters crossing from Syria into Iraq.
The house speaker also said she had spoken to the president about Israeli soldiers captured by the Lebanese group Hizbullah and Palestinian groups.
Democrats have argued that the U.S. should engage with its rivals in the region ó Iran and Syria ó to make headway in easing theproblems in Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Arab peace process.
On the West Coast, the San Francisco-Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relatios said:
“We applaud Speaker Pelosi’s initiative to use constructive dialogue as a tool for resolving conflicts. America’s stature in the Islamic world has been harmed by the Bush administration’s emphasis on the use of military force, or the threat of force, rather than dialogue and diplomacy. Speaker Pelosi’s visit to the Middle East is a vital step forward in both improving our nation’s international image and building better relations with important nations in that volatile region.
“In particular, Speaker Pelosi’s visit to the Umayyad mosque in Damascus will contribute greatly to promoting mutual understanding between the West and the Muslim world. It is through mutual understanding that religious divisions and extremism can be challenged and reduced.
“We urge President Bush to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group by working with Congress and Speaker Pelosi to formulate a new strategy that focuses on diplomacy and dialogue, not military force and belligerent rhetoric.”
CAIR-SFBA also commended other Democratic and Republican members of Congress who are making similar visits to the region.