- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s scheduled visit to Syria tomorrow drew strong criticism again from the White House today, despite the fact that three Republican congressmen went to Syria yesterday.

“It sends the wrong message to have high level U.S. officials go over there to have photo opportunities that Assad then exploits,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

“The government of Syria continues to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon. They are allowing foreign enemy fighters to pass into Iraq through its border with Iraq, which is not only targeting our American soldiers, but Iraqi soldiers, as well as innocent Iraqi people. [Mr. Assad] knows that,” Mrs. Perino said.

Mrs. Perino said the Bush administration is also unhappy that three Republican congressmen visited Syria yesterday.

“Our policy and our feelings apply to everybody,” Mrs. Perino said.

Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, is leading a delegation that includes Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama Republican, and Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Wolf said she did not know if he and the delegation of Republicans had met yet with Mr. Assad.

There is also one Republican congressman, Rep. David Hobson, of Ohio, with Mrs. Pelosi’s delegation.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, defended her plans to meet with Mr. Assad.

“We think it’s a good idea to establish the facts, to hopefully build some confidence between us. We have no illusions but great hope,” said Mrs. Pelosi, after a meeting in Beirut today with Lebanese majority leader Saad al-Hariri.

“When we go there we’ll be talking about the overarching issue of the fight against terrorism and the role that Syria can play to help or to hinder,” she said.

Mrs. Pelosi also yesterday told Israel’s national legislature, the Knesset, that she will talk to Syria about releasing Israeli soldiers taken hostage over the years.

Mrs. Pelosi today made a comment about the Republican delegation’s trip to Syria.

The White House first criticized Mrs. Pelosi’s trip on Friday, then again yesterday, but did not broaden that criticism to include the Republican trip to Syria until questioned about it by reporters today.

“The more U.S. officials go there and try to talk with them, the less [Mr. Assad] feels the pressure to change. And so we haven’t seen change in many years, and we think that the best thing to do is to keep them isolated, to show that they’re isolated, and that their behavior is unacceptable,” Mrs. Perino said.

Mr. Wolf, however, said in a statement today that he was “following in the lead of Ronald Reagan, who reached out to the Soviets during the Cold War.”

“While President Reagan firmly believed that the U.S. should continue to confront the Soviet Union on all the aspects of its unacceptable behavior, he believed this would not single-handedly force the Soviets to reform and pursued diplomatic engagement,” said Mr. Wolf, a 10-term congressman.

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