April 6, 2007
Issa's Syria visit meets with Bush's disapproval
GOP lawmaker's trip in 2003 was praised
By Dana Wilkie
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Three years ago this month,
the Bush administration was coordinating with Rep. Darrell
Issa about a meeting he planned with Syrian President
The Vista Republican had another meeting with Assad
yesterday, and the tone from the White House was far
different. Whatever else Issa's trip may have
accomplished, it seemed to take what little air was left
out of the partisan rage over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's
meeting with Assad just a day earlier.
President Bush's sharp criticism of Pelosi for her
visit left the White House little room to move when asked
about Issa's travels.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush doesn't
“think this is helpful.”
“The administration's position on members of Congress,
Democrat or Republican, is very clear: We do not think
it's productive; we do not think it is useful,” Johndroe
said. “As we have said for some time now, well before the
most high-level visits that have taken place to Damascus –
we just don't think this is helpful. The Syrians still
don't change their behavior, and this only makes them feel
The White House was quick to trumpet that view as she
headed toward Damascus, Pelosi has pointed out, but did
not do so when three Republican congressmen met with
Syrian leaders only a few days before.
The White House said
Pelosi's visit undermined the nation's policy of isolating
Syria, which it accuses of supporting terrorist
organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and aiding the
insurgency in Iraq. The Bush administration has rejected
direct talks with Syria.
Back in April 2003, the administration took a different
approach to Syria. Issa, a Lebanese-American, went to
Damascus to ease tensions between the United States and
Syria. He won assurances from Assad that the country would
not give asylum to Iraqi war criminals and would expel any
entering the country. Issa's trip was credited with
smoothing the way for a visit by then-Secretary of State
At the time, Issa said the Bush administration had
spoken with him about visiting the nation “because
dialogue (with Syria) had fallen apart during the Iraq
war.” Issa is a member of the House Committee on
Issa's trip to the Middle East seemed an asset for the
administration. That was then.
Issa has increasingly become a thorn in the
administration's side. Recently, he has questioned the
manner in which the Justice Department fired eight U.S.
attorneys, including San Diego's Carol Lam, even though
she had been a target of Issa's criticism.
And yesterday, he seemed to be channeling Pelosi, a San
Francisco Democrat. He told reporters in the Middle East
that Bush has failed to promote the dialogue necessary to
resolve disagreements between the United States and Syria.
“That's an important message to realize: We have
tensions, but we have two functioning embassies,” Issa
said after separate meetings with Assad and Syrian Foreign
Minister Walid al-Moallem.
The embassy may be functioning, but the U.S. ambassador
was recalled in 2005 after allegations that the Syrian
government might have had a hand in the assassination of
former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Issa and Assad discussed “the mechanisms and means that
must be available to build a solid U.S.-Syrian
relationship,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency
Al-Moallem stressed Syria's keenness to talk to the
United States and said the congressional visits helped to
“formulate a joint vision for finding solutions to the
problems in the region,” SANA reported.
More than a dozen U.S. lawmakers have traveled to
Damascus to meet with Assad in the past four months after
the nonpartisan Iraq Study Group recommended to Bush that
engaging with Syria and Iran could help stabilize Iraq.
The California Democratic Party was quick to seize on
the irony of Issa's visit, saying in a release that it
“will undoubtedly enrage the California Republican Party,
GOP bloggers and right-wing radio hosts across the
Reuters and The
Associated Press contributed to this report.