House delegation meets with Assad


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A U.S. House of Representatives delegation met with the Syrian president and discussed improving ties.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) cast the meeting with Bashar Assad in Cairo as part of the Obama administration’s bid to improve relations with the Arab world. Bush administration policy was to isolate Syria and not to encourage Israel-Syria peace talks.

"Every meeting I believe with a foreign leader is part of the world’s opportunity for peace and prosperity," said Giffords Wednesday in a conference call with Jewish and Arizona journalists. She one of seven members of the delegation led by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the terrorism subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. "Soft power diplomacy is a form of currency and buys a lot of goodwill," she added.

Giffords said Assad expressed hope for a rollback of the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, the mechanism Bush used to reduce trade between the two nations. Giffords said the delegation pressed Assad on meeting its provisions, including an end to backing for anti-Israel terrorist groups.

She said the visit cleared the way for another meeting to take place within the next few weeks between Assad and U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Berman’s spokesmen would not confirm or deny the likelihood of such a visit.

Two members of the delegation are Jewish: Giffords and Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.).

The delegation also met with leaders in Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as NATO officials in Brussels.

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