- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

3:07 p.m.

President Bush criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria today, saying it sends mixed signals to the region and to the government of President Bashar Assad.

“There have been a lot of people who have gone to see President Assad: some Americans, but a lot of European leaders, high-ranking officials. And yet we haven’t seen action,” Mr. Bush told reporters at a Rose Garden press conference. “He hasn’t responded.”

Mr. Bush said Mr. Assad had not reined in violent elements of militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah as requested by the international community, had acted to destabilize the democratically elected government of Lebanon and was allowing “foreign fighters” to move into Iraq from Syria.

“Sending delegations hasn’t worked. It’s just simply been counterproductive,” Mr. Bush said.

The president spoke shortly after Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, arrived in Damascus as part of a tour of the Middle East. She is leading a congressional delegation.

Mr. Bush also expressed frustration with the congressional debate on Iraq war spending and accused majority-party Democrats of being “more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need.”

He renewed his veto threats on both the House and Senate versions of war spending bill and noted that it had been 57 days since he requested more than $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.

“They left for spring break without finishing their work,” Mr. Bush said.

The president’s remarks come one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced he would try to eliminate money for the war if Mr. Bush rejects Congress’ proposal to set a deadline to end combat.

Mr. Reid said yesterday that Democrats will give troops “the resources they need and a strategy in Iraq worthy of their sacrifices.”

“If the president vetoes this bill, he will have delayed funding for troops and kept in place his strategy for failure,” he said.

Republican leaders said they planned to stick with Mr. Bush.

“I think our Democratic friends have decided the war is lost,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Mr. Bush has disparaged the Senate-passed bill calling for most U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008, and an even stronger House-passed bill demanding a September 2008 withdrawal. He said both bills “undercut the troops.”

Mr. Bush bluntly said that such a veto could not be overridden in Congress, given thin Democratic majorities. He said that if Congress were, in fact, going to send him a bill that he would surely veto, they should do it quickly.

“If Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I’ll veto it and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay,” Mr. Bush said.

Mrs. Pelosi became the highest-ranking American politician to visit Syria since relations began to deteriorate between Washington and Damascus four years ago. The United States accuses Syria of interfering in Iraq and Lebanon and sponsoring terrorists — charges that Syria denies.

Mrs. Pelosi did not make any comment on arrival and headed for a tour of downtown Damascus. She is scheduled to meet Mr. Assad and other Syrian officials.

She earlier had shrugged off White House criticism of her visit, saying in Lebanon on Monday that it was an “excellent idea” for her and other lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — to go to there. “We have no illusions but great hopes” for her talks with Mr. Assad, Mrs. Pelosi said.

The White House has said the administration objects to all visits to Syria by high-ranking officials.

“We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals, signals in the region and, of course, mixed signals to President Assad,” Mr. Bush said. “Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they’re part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they’re a state sponsor of terror.”


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