Olmert Aides Say Pelosi Botched Message to Assad

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 05, 2007, issue of April 06, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Jerusalem — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew public objections from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week, after she reportedly relayed a message to Damascus that Jerusalem was ready to open peace talks with Syria.

Pelosi was reported to have delivered the message Wednesday during her meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which followed discussions that she held in Israel with Olmert. After her meeting with Assad, Pelosi announced that the Syrian president is ready to talk peace with Israel.

The Forward learned from an Israeli source that in Pelosi’s meetings with Israeli officials, the House speaker was told that Jerusalem was open to any peace overture from Damascus but Syria must first end support for terrorism. On Thursday, the Israeli press quoted sources close to the prime minister saying that Pelosi “chose to use only part of the message” that Olmert had conveyed to her.

Shortly after Pelosi’s meeting with Assad, Olmert’s office issued a statement challenging her reported message to the Syrian president.

“What was discussed with the House speaker did not include any change in Israel’s policy, as it has been presented to international parties involved in the matter,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in the statement.

“We came in friendship, hope and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi said after her meeting with the Syrian leader in Damascus. She did, however, stress that her delegation voiced concerns to Assad over Syria’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Pelosi’s delegation included two influential Jewish Democrats, Tom Lantos and Henry Waxman of California, and the country’s first Muslim congressman, Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Pelosi was also joined by two other Democratic House members, Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Louise Slaughter of New York, and one Republican, David Hobson of Ohio.

The objections from Olmert’s office follow a clash between Pelosi and the White House over whether it was appropriate for the speaker to meet with Assad. The Bush administration argued that the meeting would undermine its strategy of isolating Syria in an effort to pressure Damascus to stop harboring terror groups, cut its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and block the flow of anti-American fighters into Iraq through the Syrian border. Talking to reporters, President Bush called Pelosi’s mission to Syria “counterproductive” because “sending delegations doesn’t work.” Bush said that Pelosi’s meeting with Assad would send a mixed message regarding American policy on Syria.

Pelosi rejected the White House’s criticism, saying that her visit to Damascus was important and that there is a need for a dialogue between the two countries. Pelosi is the highest-ranking American official to conduct talks with the Syrian government since February 2005, when the Bush administration called back the U.S. ambassador to Damascus and named Syria one of the destabilizing forces in the region.

The House speaker suggested that the attack against her was politically motivated, since the Bush administration did not object to a similar visit to Syria last week by a delegation of Republican lawmakers. Other observers noted that prior to the recent objections from Jerusalem, Israeli officials seemed quite eager to use Pelosi as a messenger. According to a report in Ha’aretz, the key message that Olmert was hoping for Pelosi to convey was that Israel has no plans to attack Syria. Israeli officials reportedly are worried that Assad, after incorrectly concluding that Jerusalem is planning a strike against his country, will launch an attack against Israel.

The flap this week between Pelosi and Olmert’s aides comes on the heels of a public disagreement over America’s military presence in Iraq. Last month, at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Olmert told thousands of Aipac activists that a premature withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would harm Israel’s security. The next day, in a speech to the same audience, Pelosi touted efforts by Democratic lawmakers to set a strict deadline for pulling American troops out of Iraq. Pelosi’s remarks drew scattered boos from the crowd.

According to Israeli sources, the issue of Iraq was not discussed between Pelosi and Olmert when the two met in Jerusalem this week. Jewish organizations consider Pelosi a close friend and a strong supporter of Israel. At the same time, several influential Jewish organizations have backed calls from Washington and Jerusalem to avoid engagement with Assad before Syria moves to end its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. Dovish Jewish groups have echoed the calls for Damascus to end its support of terrorist organizations, but they are also urging Israel and the United States to respond to Syrian calls for negotiations.

In recent months, Olmert’s government has rejected several direct and indirect calls by Syria to open peace talks. Israeli officials have said that one of the considerations in turning down the Syrian offers was the concern of defying the Bush administration’s push to isolate the Assad regime.






Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.