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Carter backs Pelosi's trip, despite Bush's rebuke

By Dugald McConnell
POSTED: 2:36 p.m. EDT, April 5, 2007

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter expressed his support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, rejecting White House criticism of the visit.

"I was glad that she went," Carter said Wednesday. "When there is a crisis, the best way to help resolve the crisis is to deal with the people who are instrumental in the problem."

Pelosi arrived in Syria on Tuesday, in an attempt to open direct dialogue with Syria's leader, something President Bush opposes. Pelosi also discussed with President Bashar Al-Assad concerns about Syria's support for militant groups. (Full story)

Bush on Tuesday called the trip "counterproductive" and said it would send mixed signals.

"Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror," he said at a news conference in the White House's Rose Garden.

Carter, however, said there was "no threat" that the Democratic speaker's visit would dilute the United States' ability to speak to Syria with one voice.

Pelosi defended her visit, saying her talks with Al-Assad focused only on topics on which she and Bush agree.

"On the issues that we set before the president (of Syria)," she said, "there is no division among us or between our congressional delegation in Congress and the president of the United States." (Full story)

Syrian cabinet minister Buthayna Sha'ban expressed his support for the visit and said, "Syria stands for freedom and for peace, and so does Nancy Pelosi."

The Syrian media also praised the visit as a potential breakthrough in icy U.S.-Syrian relations, with the Syria Times calling her a "brave lady on an invaluable mission."

Effects on the administration

The Bush administration charges that Syria allows insurgents to cross its borders and attack targets in Iraq -- an allegation Syria denies.

While Syria admits it financially supports Hamas and Hezbollah, it denies U.S. accusations that it provides them with weapons. The country has been on the U.S. State Department's list of terror-sponsoring nations since the list was created in 1979.

Still, despite the White House's rebuke, Pelosi's visit could be beneficial for the administration, said Jim Walsh at MIT's Security Studies Program.

"Every president wants to have complete control over their foreign policy," he said, "but I think in the long run it's helpful. The more information flow you have back and forth, the more contact you have back and forth, the greater the chance that you're going to be able to resolve some of these issues."

Carter said he recently wanted to visit Syria, in connection with a Palestinian election, but "for the only time in my life, as a former president, I was ordered by the White House not to go."

Pelosi is the highest-ranking American to meet with a Syrian president since then-President Clinton met with Al-Assad's father, the late Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, in 1994.

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