Earlier today Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA), both senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus for over two hours. AP News reports, “the U.S. Embassy in Damascus said the meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, covered “a full-range of topics relating to U.S.-Syrian relations and regional issues.””
In a telephone interview with AP from Jerusalem where he traveled after the meeting with Assad, Kerry said, “I feel quite confident in saying this was a conversation worth having and that the (Bush) administration ought to pursue it. I feel very strongly about that…It’s worth following up on a number of avenues.”
The following is a statement from Kerry and Dodd on their meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus:
“As part of our fact finding trip to Syria, earlier today we met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The conversation was open and direct and covered all the major issues confronting the region. As senior Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, we felt it was important to make clear that while we believe in resuming dialogue, our message is no different: Syria can and should play a more constructive role in the region.
“We conveyed our strong belief that only concrete and verifiable actions by the Syrian government would help convince Americans that Syria is willing to change course.
“Specifically, we told President Assad that in our view, key issues include:
Controlling Syria’s borders with Iraq, verifiably and concretely working to stop the flow of funds, insurgents, and weapons into Iraq. Ending the supply of weapons and funds to Hezbollah, Hamas, and other extremist organizations, using its influence to press for the release of Israeli soldiers currently being held by Hezbollah and Hamas, and working to elicit a commitment by Hamas to accept Israel’s right to exist. Respecting Lebanon’s territorial and political sovereignty and independence, complying with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and fully cooperating with the ongoing investigations into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and member of Parliament Pierre Gemayel.
“President Assad indicated that he was willing to seek common ground and explore issues of mutual interest.
“We concluded our meeting by urging President Assad to consider taking concrete and verifiable actions that will validate his expressed view that Syria supports a stable and sovereign Iraq, a two state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict, and a stable Lebanon.
“We concluded that our conversation was worthwhile, and that the Baker Hamilton Commission’s recommendation of resuming direct dialogue with Syria should be pursued. We intend to debrief the Administration in hopes that they will see the merit of this approach.”
AP News also reported that the “Bush administration has accused Kerry, Dodd and other senators who have met with Assad of sending mixed signals and has insisted that the U.S. will not make concessions to Damascus to win its help in Iraq.”
However in truth it’s the Bush administration who is sending mixed signals. As reported here a few days ago, Senator Kerry met with Secretary of State Rice prior to departing for the Middle East and discussed his itinerary. Rice did not discourage the meeting with Assad. As Kerry and Dodd have stated above they “intend to debrief the Administration,” on their meeting.