- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

JERUSALEM (Agence France-Presse) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday visited Jerusalem’s Old City on the first day of her tour of the Middle East, which has drawn fire from the Bush administration because of her decision to visit Syria.

“The speaker visited the Old City and toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” an unidentified official traveling with Mrs. Pelosi said.

Mrs. Pelosi — whose delegation includes House Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress — was to meet Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres for dinner later in the day, the official said.

She is scheduled to meet today with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before speaking at an official ceremony in parliament. She also planned to talk with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, raised the ire of the White House after her aides announced she would make a groundbreaking visit to Syria, which the United States accuses of harboring terror organizations and backing insurgents in Iraq.

Syria’s embassy in Washington hailed the proposed trip as “momentous” and expressed hopes it may change sorely strained relations with the United States, even as the White House denounced the visit as “a really bad idea” that undermines U.S. policy.

The State Department tried and failed to convince Mrs. Pelosi, who will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria in years, to cancel the visit, which is expected to take place this week.

It then asked her to convey a “strong message” to Damascus, officials said.

“They should end their support for Palestinian rejectionist groups, take a constructive stance vis-a-vis Lebanon and obviously do what they can to help support Iraq,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The White House denounced the Damascus visit by Mrs. Pelosi — a determined opponent of President Bush’s Iraq war policies — and warned she may hand Syrian President Bashar Assad a symbolic diplomatic victory.

“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 do think that it’s a really bad idea,” said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Other top Democratic lawmakers traveling with Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Ellison include House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, California Democrat, and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat.

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