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Pelosi arrives in Damascus for Syria talks

  Politics  -   POSTED: 2007/04/03 14:33

Syrian officials and state-run media on Tuesday welcomed an ongoing visit of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Damascus, hoping that it would help alleviate tense relations between the two countries.

Elias Mourad, director general and editor-in-chief of Syria's ruling al-Baath party's organ the Baath newspaper, told local press that Pelosi's visit represents an affirmation of Syria's role in the Middle East.

He said differences inside the U.S. administration over Pelosi's visit showed that there are more and more opinions for engagement with Syria.

Meanwhile, Mahdi Dakhlullah, Syria's former information minister, said Pelosi's visit was "a step towards the right direction" which indicated a failure of the U.S. policy to isolate Syria.

Syria believed the visit signaled a sign that the U.S. policy regained a balance in dealing with the Mideast issues, he added.

"We think dialogue between Syria and the United States has restarted," Dakhlullah said, hoping that it would continue in a bid to pressure the Bush administration to reverse its unsuccessful Middle East approach.

Syrian official media, for its part, widely hailed Pelosi's trip as the government-run Damascus Radio welcoming it as "a step in the right direction ... because closing gates of dialogue is a flagrant mistake."

In addition, the Syria Times newspaper described Pelosi as a "brave lady" on an "invaluable" mission while the Tishrin daily stated in an editorial that Pelosi would discover herself that Syria was ready for serious and sincere dialogue with U.S. officials.

Pelosi, a staunch critic of U.S. President George W. Bush's Iraq policy, is scheduled to hold talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other officials on Wednesday about which she had "no illusions but great hope."

The trip, however, has met strong criticism from the White House which rebuked it as a "really bad idea."

On Tuesday, Bush criticized Pelosi's trip to Damascus as sending "mixed signals" that undermine U.S.-led efforts to isolate Syria.

Defending her trip to Damascus on Monday in Beirut, Pelosi argued that the journey was "an excellent idea" and she would discuss with Assad "the overarching issue of the fighting against terrorism and the role that Syria can play to help or to hinder."

Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. politician to visit here in years, arrived in Damascus Tuesday afternoon with a congressional delegation that grouped U.S. lawmakers from both Democratic and Republican parties.

Relations between Washington and Damascus have been strained since 2003 as Syria strongly objected the U.S. invasion of Iraq and blamed the U.S.-led occupation for the turbulences in the country ever after.

The White House, on the contrary, has been accusing Syria of supporting terror organizations and doing little to stop weapons and militants from infiltrating into Iraq and destabilize situation there.

Damascus supports the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement which Washington labels as terror organizations. Syria, however, insists that they are legitimate resistant movements.

U.S.-Syrian ties further deteriorated following the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in February 2005 after which Washington withdrew its ambassador to Damascus for its alleged role in the killing.

Syria denied any involvement in the murder although a UN probe has implicated senior Syrian officials in the case. Washington, which had since refused high-level contacts with Damascus, has been under pressure to engage directly with Syria to help quiet down upgrading turmoil in Iraq.

The U.S. bipartisan Iraq Study Group has urged the Bush administration to engage in talks with Syria and Iran over Iraq. However, the White House has largely ignored the suggestion.


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