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Welcome Madam, Our Stance Hasn't Changed
Syrian Daily Upbeat, with a Hint of "We Told You So"
04/05/2007 09:00 AM ET
Syrian media reported Wednesday's talks between President Bashar al-Asad and Speaker Pelosi and her accompanying congressional delegation, with the tone-setting article appearing in the official daily al-Thawra. The report focuses heavily on the significance of the high-level breakthrough, with just a hint of “We told you so” detected in the remarks of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem following the event -- in which the FM also outlines familiar Syrian negotiating positions in any serious dialogue to come.

Al Thawra, writing in Arabic, carries a front page story on President Asad’s meeting with the speaker and the delegation, saying they discussed the “heated issues” of the region.

The Syrian president said that the visit of Pelosi and the accompanying delegation to Syria “carries a clear message the dialogue and peace are the shared languages between peoples,” adding that “direct dialogue would clarify many facts, and would address many issues that concern the two countries,” al-Thawra writes.

Al-Asad renewed Syria’s "keenness on peace," pointing to Syria’s participation, with the United States, in the 1991 Madrid peace process, confirming “the credibility of Syria’s peaceful orientation as a strategic choice,” according to the report.

As for the situation in Iraq, the president affirmed Syria’s commitment to the unity of Iraq and to the return of Iraq’s independence and the realization of security and stability in the country, through complete national reconciliation and through a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, the official daily writes.

On Pelosi’s part, Al-Thawra reports that the speaker affirmed that her visit to Damascus was aimed at opening the prospects of dialogue between Syria and the United States in order to help to deal with the heated issues, “hinting at good impressions” on her part and on the part of members of the delegation after their first visit to Syria.

The paper reports that Pelosi described her visit as “fruitful” and said that the Syrian people had welcomed the delegation in a friendly way, expresssing that the delegation had come in hope and friendship, suggesting that the “road to Damascus is the road to peace.”

Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, and Dr. 'Imad Mustafa, the Syrian ambassador in Washington, as well as the chargé d’affaires of the American embassy in Damascus. The paper also writes that Farouq al-Shar', Syrian vice president, met Pelosi the day before, along with Dr. Faysal al-Miqdad, Syrian deputy foreign minister, Ambassador Mustafa, and the American chargé d’affaires, according to the report.

Press conference

Pelosi with members of the US delegation and Syrian officials in a press conference at Damascus airport on Wednesday.
Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP.
Pelosi with members of the US delegation and Syrian officials in a press conference at Damascus airport on Wednesday.
Al-Thawra noted Pelosi’s remarks in a press conference following the event, saying that her visit builds on the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission, and that the talks dealt with combating terrorism, with the conditions in Iraq, Lebanon, and the occupied Palestinian territories.

According to al-Thawra, Pelosi said that her trip resulted from her conviction that dialogue with Syria is necessary and profitable, and that the US Congress was increasingly interested in restoring peace to the region, and in the views of President Asad on the readiness of his country to restore peace in the Middle East. Pelosi said that she and the delegation were full of hope that this visit would achieve the desired results.

Representative Tom Lantos affirmed that the discussions with President Asad and the Syrian officials were frank and probing, and that the visit was the beginning of dialogue to be built in the future, whereas Congressman Nick Rahall said that the visit was very fruitful and that “we are interested in arriving at positive results of peace for all” adding that the delegation came to Damascus with a message of peace and with the goal of finding peace for the region, according to the report.

Al-Thawra, significantly, did not mention that Lantos, known as one of the most pro-Israel members of the Congress, was a main sponsor of the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, which was aimed at isolating and punishing Syria, nor indeed that Pelosi signed on as one of the more than 300 co-sponsors of the bill in the House. Rahall opposed the measure at the time, taking positions similar to those that Pelosi and the delegation expressed in Damascus on Wednesday. These details would not be lost on Syrian officials, who followed the proceedings closely in 2003 as their isolation was being engineered by the Bush administration and the Congress, with the backing of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby.

Syrian foreign minister’s remarks

Al-Thawra continues, describing the comments of Syrian FM Walid Muallem to the press following the talks. Muallem noted that the delegation came with a message of friendship and dialogue, saying that Syria had called for and supported these things all along, and that dialogue must be based on mutual respect. “As for friendship,” he said this is what all peoples seek, “including the American people, and the hope that we seek is the realization of a just and complete peace in the region, which is built on the Israeli withdrawal from the lands occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Muallem added, “Differences in points of view are natural, and that this comes from a lack of dialogue,” affirming that Syria is in a good position to know the problems of the region, the paper writes.

The FM stated that “we are happy because Pelosi and her delegation brought the courage to bridge these differences, affirming Syria’s preparedness to reach a just and complete peace, following the Arab peace initiative,” al-Thawra writes, referring to proposals floated earlier and resurrected in association with last month's Arab summit in Riyadh.

On the issue of Palestine, Muallem said that he told the delegation that Hamas forms a basic part of the Palestinian political process, and that the movement had won the Palestinian elections by a clear majority. He called for support of the recent Mecca agreement (between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas), and of the Palestinian unity government, also emphasizing the need for support of a "complete" peace process, and called for the international community to show “goodwill toward the Palestinians by lifting the unjust blockade on the Palestinian people,” a clear but indirect reference to the American-Israeli efforts to isolate first the Hamas government, elected in 2006, and now the government of national unity formed after the February 2007 Mecca agreement.

With relation to Iraq, al-Thawra reports that Muallem confirmed Syria’s cooperation with the Iraqi government in security affairs and border control, pointing to joint committees in this field. The paper writes that he affirmed that the military solution “does not lead to any result” in Iraq, saying, “only a political process will enjoy the consensus of the Iraqi people and the support of the neighboring countries.”

On the question of Lebanon, Muallem "renewed Syria’s aspirations to build better relations with Lebanon," saying that Syria encouraged the arrival at consensus between the Lebanese. “Lebanon is not governed except by consensus,” the FM remarked. Muallem denied the existence of any arms smuggling over the common border, the official daily reports.

Muallem concluded, “We highly value the visit of Pelosi and the accompanying delegation, as it confirms the opening of dialogue between the two peoples, Syrian and American, and it completes the development of contacts between the Syrian leadership and the Congress through the Syrian ambassador in Washington, and describing the visit as “an important step in an important path.”


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