- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

12:48 p.m.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that she raised the issue of Saudi Arabia’s lack of female politicians with Saudi government officials on the last stop of her Mideast tour.

Mrs. Pelosi, the first woman House speaker, said she had not discussed King Abdullah’s recent criticism of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, focusing instead on praise for the king’s Mideast peace initiative and efforts to quell conflicts in Somalia and Darfur.

She met with the king yesterday and with several members of the Shura Council, an unelected advisory assembly named by the king, today.

Asked if she had discussed the lack of women on the council, she told reporters, “The issue has been brought up in our discussions with the Saudis on this trip.”

Mrs. Pelosi arrived in Saudi Arabia from Syria, where she defied the White House’s Middle East policy by meeting with President Bashar Assad and saying “the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” The Bush administration has rejected direct talks with Damascus and criticized Mrs. Pelosi for her visit.

In an interview with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney said Mr. Assad has “been isolated and cut off because of his bad behavior, and the unfortunate thing about the speaker’s visit is it sort of breaks down that barrier.”

Mrs. Pelosi was met at the Riyadh airport by officials including Abdul-Rahman al-Zamel, the head of the Saudi-American friendship committee at the Shura Council. He described the speaker’s visit as a “breakthrough” and praised the inclusion of the first Muslim member of the U.S. Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, in her delegation.

Mrs. Pelosi wore a lavender pantsuit instead of the long black robe, called an abaya, that women, Saudi and non-Saudi, have to wear in the kingdom.

Visiting women dignitaries are not expected to wear the robe, and other female U.S. government officials who have visited Saudi Arabia in the past few years, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did not wear abayas when they met with Saudi officials.

Ihsan Abu-Holeiqa, a member of the council, said the meeting with Mrs. Pelosi today included discussion of the new difficulties Saudis have in getting U.S. visas, with some waiting four to five months. The lengthy process followed the September 11 attacks carried out by 19 hijackers, 15 of them Saudis.

Mr. al-Zamel also praised Mrs. Pelosi’s visit to Syria, saying Syria “is part of this Arab world, part of the issues to be resolved, and to ignore people gets you nowhere.”

Mrs. Pelosi was the highest-ranking American politician to visit Syria since relations began to deteriorate in 2003. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell went to Damascus in May 2003.

Washington accuses Syria of backing Hamas and Hezbollah, two groups it deems terrorist organizations, and fueling Iraq’s violence by allowing Sunni insurgents to operate from its territory.

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