White House Official Criticizes Pelosi Visit to Syria (Update1)
By Laura Litvan and Brendan Murray
March 30 (Bloomberg) -- A White House spokeswoman denounced a plan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit officials in Syria as part of a trip to the Middle East.
Pelosi's outreach to a state sponsor of terrorism is a ``really bad idea,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said at a briefing in Washington. ``Someone should take a step back and think about the message that it sends and the message that it sends to our allies.''
Perino's remarks come as a group of Republican lawmakers has embarked on their own trip to Syria. Michael Lowry, a spokesman for Representative Robert Aderholt, said that the Alabama lawmaker will visit Syria as part of a Republican delegation led by Representative Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican. Wolf is the top Republican on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department.
Perino wasn't available to comment about that trip.
Pelosi's office today announced that she will visit Israel and address the Israeli Knesset on Sunday, and late today confirmed the planned stop in Syria as part of the trip with five other lawmakers. Her spokesman, Brendan Daly, said that the Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker last year recommended that the Bush administration hold talks with Syria and Iran without conditions to help stabilize Iraq.
``As recommended by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan delegation led by Speaker Pelosi intends to discuss a wide range of security issues affecting the United States and the Middle East with representatives of governments in the region, including Syria,'' Daly said in a prepared statement.
Perino said it was unclear whether anyone in the Bush administration has been in contact with Pelosi about her travel plans.
Others on Trip
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell went to Syria in the spring of 2003, but top-level officials have generally shunned visits there. Pelosi, who made history in January when she was elected the first woman to serve as House Speaker, also traveled to Iraq and other Middle East countries that month as part of a congressional delegation.
Pelosi's trip to the Middle East this time includes five other lawmakers, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat. One Republican, Representative David Hobson of Ohio, is also on the trip.
Earlier this month, the U.S. attended a conference on Iraq that Syria and Iran joined. The meeting marked the first time that the U.S. has sat in Baghdad with representatives of Syria and Iran to discuss Iraq's future.
The U.S. has refused to conduct direct talks with Syria and Iran about Iraq's security, saying those governments are fomenting sectarian violence there and aiding attacks on U.S. troops. The U.S. has blamed Syria for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and accuses it of being a state sponsor of terrorism.
The Bush administration also says Syria is backing Hezbollah, the anti-Israel Islamic political movement and militia in Lebanon. Hezbollah is listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization.
To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington atLast Updated: March 30, 2007 and Brendan Murray in Washington at 17:25 EDT