US House Speaker to Visit Syria

Aides to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked Saturday, March 31, to prepare her groundbreaking visit to Syria that has sparked protests from the White House.

US House Speaker to Visit Syria

Pelosi — currently in Israel with a delegation that includes Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress — will travel to Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, Ellison's spokesman Rick Jauert told Agence France-Presse (AFP) Saturday.

The delegation also includes House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman.

They were expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as well as Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, said Jauert, who told AFP "they will also travel to Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia."

He declined to provide a more detailed itinerary because of security concerns.

Separately, Pelosi's office said in a statement that the speaker, who is just behind Vice President Dick Cheney in the line of succession to the US presidency, would address Israel's Knesset on April 1.

A spokesman for Syria's embassy in Washington, Ahmed Salkini, told AFP that "this is definitely a momentous visit," but that "it all depends at the end on how it is going to affect the Bush administration's decision-making."

Salkini noted that three lawmakers from Bush's Republican party were currently in Syria and added "anyone that wants to come and engage with Syria is more than welcome."

Pelosi's trip comes two weeks after Ellen Sauerbrey, the US assistant secretary of state for refugees and migration, returned from the highest-level US diplomatic visit to Syria in two years.

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visited Syria in early January 2005. The last US president to visit Syria was Bill Clinton, in late October 1994.

Washington withdrew its ambassador in Damascus after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut.

"Diplomatic Victory"

The White House denounced the visit by Pelosi — a determined opponent of US President George W. Bush's Iraq war policies — and warned she may hand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a symbolic "diplomatic victory."

"Assad probably really wants people to come and have a photo opportunity and have tea with him and have discussions about where they're coming from, but we do think that it's a really bad idea," said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The State Department tried and failed to convince Pelosi, who will be the highest-ranking US official to visit Syria in years, to cancel the visit, which is expected to take place Tuesday, April 3, an informed source told AFP.

Spokesman Sean McCormack argued against such trips, saying the Syrians "point to these visits as proof that there's no problem with their behavior and that they are not in fact isolated."

Last year, a blue-ribbon panel led by US veteran diplomat James Baker said that improving the situation in Iraq required holding direct high-level talks with Iran and Syria — a step Bush firmly rebuffed.

The respected International Crisis Group think-tank has also blamed the Bush administration's policies of isolation and threats against Syria for causing instability in neighboring Lebanon.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16