- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Syria, a country President Bush has shunned as a sponsor of terrorism, despite being asked by the administration not to go.

“In our view, it is not the right time to have these sort of high-profile visitors to Syria,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters yesterday.

Mrs. Pelosi arrived in Israel yesterday in what is her second fact-finding trip to the Middle East since taking over leadership in the House in January.

Her repeat trip, an indication she plans to play a role in foreign policy, is also a direct affront to the administration, which says such diplomatic overtures by lawmakers can do more harm than good.

Mrs. Pelosi will not be the first member of Congress in recent months to travel to Syria, but as House speaker she is the most senior.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the speaker “should take a step back and think about the message that it sends.”

“This is a county that is a state sponsor of terror, one that is trying to disrupt the Siniora government in Lebanon and one that is allowing foreign fighters to flow into Iraq from its borders,” Mrs. Perino said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad “probably really wants people to come and have a photo opportunity and have tea with him, and have discussions about where they’re coming from. But we just think it’s a really bad idea,” Mrs. Perino said.

U.S. officials held their first direct, high-level contact with Syrian representatives in years when they met in Baghdad this month with officials from several Middle East countries to discuss Iraq.

Mr. McCormack said the State Department tried to discourage Mrs. Pelosi and the others from visiting Syria but agreed to give their staff a pre-trip briefing. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus also is expected to assist the delegation.

Traveling with Mrs. Pelosi were Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Henry A. Waxman and Tom Lantos of California, Louise M. Slaughter of New York, Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and Ohio Republican David L. Hobson. Mr. Ellison is the first Muslim member of Congress.

The House has adjourned for a two-week spring break.

The group planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and to travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Mr. Ellison’s spokesman, Rick Jauert.

The speaker is expected to address the Israeli Knesset, her first address to a foreign government. She will become the highest-ranking American woman to speak before the Israeli parliament, her office said.

She is expected to discuss “America’s commitment to Israel and the challenges facing the two nations in the Middle East,” according to a statement.

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