Pelosi’s Syria Trip Undermines US Policy, Says Expert
By Monisha Bansal
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
April 03, 2007
(CNSNews.com) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to Syria later this week will undermine American foreign policy, a conservative analyst said Monday, citing the Baathist regime’s links to regional terrorism.
Shrugging off White House disapproval, the California Democrat plans to hold talks with President Bashar Assad in Damascus, as part of a Mideast visit that has also taken in Israel and Lebanon.
“Pelosi’s visit is likely to undermine the Bush administration’s foreign policy and help the Syrians go back to business as usual – much to the dismay of our Lebanese, Iraqi, and Israeli friends, all of whom want the United States to take a tougher stand against Syria,” Jim Phillips, a research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service .
He said the “ill-timed trip to Syria is likely to encourage Syria’s dictatorship to think it can get away with murder – literally-in Lebanon.”
“The Syrians continue to block a U.N. sponsored investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister [Rafik] Hariri, which has Syria’s fingerprints all over it, and have been isolated by their attempts to meddle in Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestinian areas,” Phillips added.
Critics of engagement with Syria also frequently cite its longstanding support for terrorism – violent Palestinian terrorist groups have been hosted in Damascus – hostility towards Israel, support for groups that have carried out terrorist attacks against Americans – especially Hizballah – pursuit of non-conventional weapons capability, and suspicions of a hand behind the assassination of senior Lebanese politicians critical of Syrian involvement in Lebanon, including Hariri.
On the other hand, the Iraq Study Group (ISG), co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton, recommended last December that the U.S. engage both Syria and Iran.
Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a member of Pelosi’s delegation, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “We are going with the clear intention of making our position crystal clear to the Syrian leadership, basically indicating that it is in their interest to return to a position where they can be part of the positive forces in this region and not be in tight alliance with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s Iran.”
Dana Perino, acting White House press secretary, called Pelosi’s trip a “really bad idea.”
“We discourage members of Congress to make such visits to Syria,” she said during a daily press briefing. “This is a country that is a state sponsor of terror, one that is trying to disrupt the [Fouad] Siniora government in Lebanon, and one that is allowing foreign fighters to flow into Iraq from its borders.”
“We think that someone should take a step back and think about the message that it sends, and the message that it sends to our allies,” Perino added.
“It’s interesting because three of our colleagues, who are all Republicans, were in Syria yesterday and I didn’t hear the White House speaking out about that,” retorted Pelosi, according to AP reports.
GOP Reps. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Frank Wolf of Virginia and Robert Aderholt of Alabama held talks with Assad at the weekend.
(Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bill Nelson of Florida and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, as well as Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have also visited Damascus in recent months.)
Daniel Serwer, vice president of the Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations at the U.S. Institute for Peace, said Monday Pelosi’s trip “clearly signals an openness in Congress to talking with the Syrians.”
“There is a broad consensus in Congress – that is bipartisan – in favor of talking with Damascus and Tehran about Iraq,” he told Cybercast News Service.
Serwer conceded, however, that it was unlikely any result would come out of the visit.
“She can’t negotiate on behalf of the U.S. or anything like that,” he said. “It’s the administration that determines American policy.”
Syria has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror since 1979 and remains on the list for providing what the department calls “political and material support to both Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups.”
Though Syria has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986, early findings of a United Nations investigation into Hariri’s assassination in February 2005 indicate “a strong likelihood of official Syrian involvement,” the department says.
The U.S. government has also accused Syria of providing financial support and weapons to Iraqi insurgents.