(1st Add: Includes comments from Israeli and Syrian officials.)
(by Julie Stahl, CNSNews.com) Jerusalem – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the wrong message to Syrian President Bashar Assad from Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said on Wednesday evening.
Pelosi, who is heading a bi-partisan fact-finding tour of the Middle East, met with Assad on Wednesday, a move that angered the Bush administration. Earlier in the week, Pelosi — the most senior U.S. official to visit Syria in years — visited Israel and met with Olmert.
At a press conference following the meeting between Pelosi and Assad in Damascus, Pelosi indicated that she had delivered a message that Israel was ready to engage in peace talks.
“We were very pleased with the reassurances we received from the president [Assad] that he was ready to resume the peace process. He was ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel,” Pelosi said.
The meeting with Assad “enabled us to communicate a message from Prime Minister Olmert that Israel was ready to engage in peace talks as well,” she said.
But the prime minister’s office denied that Olmert had asked her to communicate such a message in a “clarification” statement issued on Wednesday evening.
During the meeting between Pelosi and Olmert, the prime minister said that a number of members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives had visited Damascus recently and had “received the impression that despite the declarations of Bashar Assad, there is no change in the position of his country regarding a possible peace process with Israel.”
Since the end of the summer war between Israel and Hizballah in Lebanon, Syria has made a number of overtures toward Israel, but Israel has rejected them, saying that Syria isn’t serious about making peace. The last official peace talks between the two countries were in early 2000.
Olmert emphasized 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,” the clarification statement said.
“In order to conduct serious and genuine peace negotiations, Syria must cease its support of terror, cease its sponsoring of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations, refrain from providing weapons to Hizballah 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,” it said.
Whether or not Syria implements these measures will determine if Syria is sincere about making genuine peace with Israel, Olmert said.
The communication with Pelosi did not contain any change in Israeli policy, the statement said.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted unnamed sources in the prime minister’s office as saying that Pelosi had taken “part of the things that were said in the meeting, and used what suited her.”
Earlier in the week, Olmert’s spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, said by telephone that Olmert had told Pelosi that he didn’t think Assad deserved all the attention he was getting.
Nevertheless, when Pelosi offered to deliver a message, according to Eisen, Olmert said that the message was “don’t prepare for war and renounce terrorism” and maybe there can be negotiations.
Israeli government minister Ze’ev Boim said he was skeptical about Syria’s intentions toward peace. Words come cheap, he said in a radio interview. Syria must back its words up with actions, he added.
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was quoted by the radio as saying that he was concerned about the effects of Pelosi’s visit to Syria. The trip might encourage European states to drop their isolation of Syria.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem called for dialogue between Syria and Washington.
Pelosi also drew fire from Washington for saying that the “the road to Damascus is a road to peace.”
Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the Bush’s national security advisor, said that that road unfortunately “is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hizballah, the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq.”
Johndroe called the trip “counterproductive.”
President Bush, whose administration is trying to isolate Syria, said that meeting with Assad delivered “mixed messages” since it is a terror-sponsoring regime.
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1. Why did Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi meet with President Bashar Assad of Syria this week?
2. a) What message did Rep. Pelosi give President Assad from Israel?
b) How did Israeli Prime Minister Olmert react upon hearing that Ms. Pelosi had given that message to President Assad?
3. a) What did Mr. Olmert actually say, when asked by Ms. Pelosi previous to her trip if she could pass on a message to Assad?
b) Why do you think Speaker Pelosi gave the wrong message to President Assad?
4. a) Why has Israel rejected Syria’s move toward peace negotiations? Be specific.
b) List the measures Syria needs to take to prove to Israel that they are serious about peace.
5. What did Prime Minister Olmert tell Ms. Pelosi about her trip to Syria?
6. How is the Bush administration dealing with Syria?
7. Speaker Pelosi went to Syria despite being asked by the Bush administration not to go.
–President Bush said it would be “counterproductive,” that “Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they’re part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they’re a state sponsor of terror.”
–State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said “In our view, it is not the right time to have these sort of high-profile visitors to Syria.”
–White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the speaker “should take a step back and think about the message that it sends.” She added: “This is a country that is a state sponsor of terror, one that is trying to disrupt the Saniora government in Lebanon and one that is allowing foreign fighters to flow into Iraq from its borders.” (Fuad Saniora is prime minister of Lebanon.)
Speaker Pelosi went to Syria in an attempt to open direct dialogue with President Assad. Do you support her decision to ignore the President’s request and attempt to establish diplomatic relations without the backing of the President or the State Department? Explain your answer.
ON U.S.-SYRIAN RELATIONS:
Syria has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since the list’s inception in 1979. Because of its continuing support and safe haven for terrorist organizations, Syria is subject to legislatively mandated penalties, including export sanctions and ineligibility to receive most forms of U.S. aid or to purchase U.S. military equipment. In 1986, the U.S. withdrew its ambassador and imposed additional administrative sanctions on Syria in response to evidence of direct Syrian involvement in an attempt to blow up an Israeli airplane. A U.S. ambassador returned to Damascus in 1987, partially in response to positive Syrian actions against terrorism such as expelling the Abu Nidal Organization from Syria and helping free an American hostage earlier that year.
However, relations since the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri have considerably deteriorated. Issues of U.S. concern include the Syrian government’s failure to prevent Syria from becoming a major transit point for foreign fighters entering Iraq, its refusal to deport from Syria former Saddam regime elements who are supporting the insurgency in Iraq, its ongoing interference in Lebanese affairs, its protection of the leadership of Palestinian rejectionist groups in Damascus, its deplorable human rights record, and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. In May 2004, the Bush administration, pursuant to the provisions of the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, imposed sanctions on Syria which banned nearly all exports to Syria except food and medicine. In February 2005, in the wake of the Hariri assassination, the U.S. recalled its Ambassador to Washington. (from the U.S. State Department’s website at www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm)
To read a country profile on Syria from the Library of Congress, go to lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/profiles/Syria.pdf
(NOTE: This document is in PDF format.)
President Bush explained his request to Ms. Pelosi in response to a question from a reporter after a speech he gave this week. Read the response at whitehouse.gov. (Scroll down to the end of the speech. The first question pertains to Ms. Pelosi’s trip to Syria.)
Syria supports terrorist groups including Hezbollah. Read about Hezbollah at cfr.org.