April 5, 2007:

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held talks with Syria’s leader Wednesday despite White House objections, saying she pressed President Bashar Assad over his country’s support for militant groups and passed him a peace message from Israel.

The meeting was an attempt to push the Bush administration to open a direct dialogue with Syria, a step that the White House has rejected. Congressional Democrats insist the U.S. attempts to isolate Syria have failed to force the Assad government to change its policies.

Rep. Tom Lantos, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who was in Pelosi’s delegation, said the meeting “reinforced sharply” the potential benefits of talking to Syria. “This is only the beginning of our constructive dialogue with Syria and we hope to build on this visit,” he told reporters.

On Tuesday, President Bush denounced Pelosi’s visit to Syria, saying it sends mixed signals to Assad’s government. “Sending delegations doesn’t work. It’s simply been counterproductive,” Bush said.

Washington says Syria is fueling Iraq’s violence by allowing Sunni insurgents to operate from its territory. It also accuses it of backing terrorism because of its support for the Hezbollah and Hamas militant groups and of destabilizing the Lebanese government.

“We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi told reporters after her talks with Assad.

HT: Jean