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Archive for Monday, April 2, 2007

Pelosi to carry Israeli message to Syrian leaders

April 2, 2007

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— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will tell Syrian leaders when she visits Damascus this week on a trip criticized by the Bush administration that Israel will only engage in peace talks if Syria stops supporting Palestinian militants, Israel said Sunday.

The message came during Pelosi's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the Israel part of her Mideast tour.

"Pelosi is conveying that Israel is willing to talk if they (Syria) would openly take steps to stop supporting terrorism," Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said. "But at this point the Syrian government, by openly backing terror all around the Middle East, is not a partner for negotiations."

Israel and Syria are sworn enemies, though peace talks came close to success in 2000 before breaking down. Israel charges that Syria-based Palestinian militants are directing violence against it from the West Bank and Gaza.

Washington also considers Syria a sponsor of terror and had asked Pelosi not to visit Damascus.

"I think most Americans would not think that the leader of the Democratic Party in the Congress should be meeting with the heads of a state sponsor of terror," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Pelosi said Sunday she will raise the issue of two Israeli soldiers captured by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and a third captured by Palestinian militants last year with Syrian President Bashar Assad when she meets with him. The delegation met with the families of the soldiers during the visit to Israel.

Pelosi's trip with six other lawmakers also includes stops in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Three Republican congressmen - Frank Wolf, Joe Pitts and Robert Aderholt - were in Syria on Sunday, where they met with Assad. They said they believed there was an opportunity for dialogue with the Syrian leadership.

On Sunday night, Pelosi spoke at a dinner in the parliament building, and told Israeli lawmakers that the U.S. remains strongly behind their country.

"Americans have many political differences, but we stand united with Israel now and always," she said.

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