If it’s spring break in Washington, then that must be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi–accompanied by, my goodness, the perpetually pro-Israel Tom Lantos!– heading for Syria this week.
Pelosi’s delegation is currently in Lebanon. AP’s Zeina Karam writes there that the Speaker,
- said she thinks it’s a good idea to “establish facts, to hopefully build the confidence” between the US and Syria.
“We have no illusions, but we have great hope,” she said.
Pelosi, who is leading a congressional delegation on a fact-finding tour of the Middle East, said she would speak to the Syrians about Iraq, their role in the fight against terrorism, their support for militant groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas–whose exiled leaders live in Damascus–as well their influence in Lebanon.
And guess who’s waxing apoplectic about this? Yes, that would be Dana Perino, the fill-in for Tony Snow as White House spokesperson. Karam’s piece notes that Perino said,
- “We ask that people not go on these trips… We discourage it. Full stop.” [Plus, it] “sends the wrong message to have high-level U.S. officials going there (to Syria) to have photo opportunities that Assad then exploits.”
Oops! Then I guess having the Bush administration’s very own Assistant Secretary of State for Refugee Affairs Ellen Sauerbrey go to Syria last month was all a terrible mistake then?
Even Israel’s Acting President, Dalia Itzik, was much more moderate than Perino. She told Pelosi yesterday that,
- “Your expected visit to Damascus has naturally touched off a political debate in your country, and of course, here… I believe in your worthy intentions. Perhaps a step, seen as unpopular at this stage … will clarify to the Syrian people and leadership they must abandon the axis of evil (and) stop supporting terrorism and giving shelter to (terrorist) headquarters.”
But the main thing Washington needs to talk to Syria about right now is Iraq. And this strand of the American-Syrian diplomatic dance is quite complex, and in some ways very counter-intuitive. Did you think that it was the Syrians and their Iranian allies who want US troops out of Iraq and the stubborn old Bush Administration that wants them to stay?