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In an April 5 report for Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume regarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) recent meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle claimed: "There was a long list of serious issues with Syria. Ms. Pelosi did not raise them in public comments, but it remains to be seen whether she pressed any of them in private." In fact, as Media Matters for America previously documented, several news outlets have reported that Pelosi and others in the delegation stated that they pressed Assad on Syria's support of such groups as Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated by the State Department as terrorist organizations.
- An April 5 Los Angeles Times article reported that "Pelosi emerged from the meeting with Assad saying in a televised news conference that she had pressed him on Syria's support for the Islamic militant group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, both of which are on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups."
- An April 4 Washington Post article on Pelosi's meeting with Assad reported that when Pelosi said "she conveyed a message" from the Israeli government that it "was ready to resume peace talks," she also said that she "reiterated U.S. demands that Syria stop the passage of insurgents across Syria into Iraq and stop supporting militant groups." Also, according to reporter Anthony Shadid, she said she "brought up ... the seizure of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah."
- An April 5 New York Times article reported that, according to members of Pelosi's delegation, they had "press[ed] the president [Assad] over Syria's support for militant groups and insist[ed] that his government block militants seeking to cross into Iraq and join insurgents there." The article also reported that Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and one of the members of Pelosi's delegation, "said he asked Mr. Assad how someone 'of his intelligence and knowledge of the world could have common cause with President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has denied the Holocaust and calls for the elimination of Israel.' "
Further, both Pelosi and the entire delegation -- which included five Democrats in addition to Pelosi, as well as one Republican, Rep. David Hobson (OH) -- issued statements regarding what the delegation said during its meeting with Assad. The delegation's statement said that it had raised the following issues with Assad:
- "Syria must also stop supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and must end any interference in Lebanon's internal affairs."
- "We conveyed to him Prime Minister's Olmert's overture for peace talks when Syria openly takes steps to stop supporting terrorism."
- "We requested Assad's help in freeing missing and kidnapped Israeli soldiers including: Gilad Shalit; Ehud Goldwasser; Eldad Regev; Guy Hever; Zachary Baumel; Tzvi Feldman; Yehuda Katz; and Ron Arad. And we requested the return of the remains of Eli Cohen for burial in Israel."
The delegation also stated that it "met with opposition leaders and representatives of families of dissidents" in Damascus.
From the April 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Welcome to Washington. I'm Brit Hume. This town continued to buzz today with reaction to what House Speaker Pelosi said in Syria yesterday on a visit she had been discouraged by the White House from making. Even some reliably liberal voices were sharply critical. This came as the speaker was on to her next stop in Saudi Arabia. Chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reports.
ANGLE: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi avoided any controversy on her visit to Saudi Arabia, talking only in vague terms about efforts to encourage some sort of peace in the Middle East.
PELOSI: We also had a long discussion about what is happening in Lebanon, in Syria, in terms of Middle East peace and in terms of having fairness and justice as we move forward to a path to peace.
ANGLE: But it was on that very topic that Pelosi's trip ran into controversy in Syria, where she suggested Israel was ready to make a new overture to the Syrians, which was quickly disputed by Israeli officials, who said Syria would have to first cease its support of terrorism and terrorists, some of whom make their headquarters in Damascus.
And all of that drew another sharp rebuke from the vice president today.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It was, you know, a non-statement, a nonsensical statement. It didn't make any sense at all that she would suggest that those talks could go forward as long as the Syrians conducted themselves as a prime state sponsor of terror.
ANGLE: U.S. officials have met with Syrians on narrow issues, such as refugees or in a regional Iraq support group, and other members of Congress, including a number of Republicans, have also visited the country. But some officials thought Pelosi's friendly appearance with Syrian officials undermined the stern approach the U.S. has taken.
CHENEY: I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part. I wish she hadn't done it. But she's the speaker of the House.
SCOTT McCORMACK (State Department spokesman): It sends the wrong message to Syria. They exploit these high level visits for all the P.R. value that they're worth, and then they don't change their behavior.
ANGLE: Ms. Pelosi is the highest ranking American official to visit in four years, and the Syrians gave that great significance. One Syrian analyst today hailed her visit by saying, "This will help give the impression that Syria in no longer isolated in the world. So now, you can't ask the Europeans or others not to visit the Syrians like you used to before."
And one leader of the anti-Israeli terrorist groups Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade was quoted as saying, "I think she is brave and hope all of the people will support her. All the American people must make peace with Syrian and Iran and with Hamas."
Pelosi's cordial meetings were important to Syrians, who have been struggling against Western efforts to investigate the Syrian role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as criticism over Syria's support for terrorist groups.
PETER BROOKES, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: But the thing is here is, you know, Syria is being isolated, not just by the United States, but by the European Union, by its Arab -- by its Arab neighbors, and for lots of -- lots of good reasons.
ANGLE: There was a long list of serious issues with Syria. Ms. Pelosi did not raise them in public comments, but it remains to be seen whether she pressed any of them in private. So as she prepares to return home, it isn't clear whether her trip changed any Syrian views, for the worse or the better. But administration officials still worry that the government there had some success in blowing this up, as one official put it, into a major U.S. engagement of Syria, Brit.
HUME: Jim, thank you.