WASHINGTON, D.C. — Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on a trip to Syria in 2007, met with him again today during another visit to the troubled Middle Eastern nation.
A report from Syria’s official government news agency says that Kucinich met with Assad this morning, where the president “reviewed the recent events taking place in Syria” as well as “the advanced steps” the country has achieved in a “comprehensive reform program.”
The Syrian Arab News Agency report says Assad “stressed the importance of differentiating between the people’s legitimate demands to which the State responded through issuing decrees and laws and the organized armed groups which utilized these demands to create chaos and destabilize the country.”
Like much of the Middle East, Syria has been the site of bloody clashes between pro-democracy activists and troops from the incumbent regime. Many U.S. politicians call Assad a brutal dictator and say the United States should not interact with him. On Monday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the U.S. should recall its ambassador to Syria because Assad is not interested in diplomacy.
“Any continued presence of a U.S. Ambassador will either be used by the regime for propaganda purposes or just plain ignored,” said a press statement from Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican.
Ros-Lehtinen’s office office did not respond to requests for comment on Kucinich’s visit with Assad. The White House declined comment. State Department spokeswoman Megan Mattson said Kucinich visited Syria at the invitation of its government, and was not there as an an official U.S. government representative.
“There is no message from the U.S. government,” Mattson said of Kucinich. “He speaks for himself.”
Kucinich’s office says Arab-American constituents in his district asked him “to investigate conditions on the ground in Syria and to see if resolution of a situation where violence has been spiraling and events are spinning out of control is possible.”
According to his office, Kucinich intends to meet with democracy activists, nongovernmental organizations, small-business owners, civilians and government officials, in addition to Assad and the president of Lebanon – Michel Suleiman – where Kucinich is also visiting.
“Peace is not just the absence of war,” Kucinich said in a release to announce the trip. “Peace is a conscious, active pursuit that requires work and communication. My work as a member of Congress requires that I learn firsthand about events in order to better understand policy alternatives for America and other nations.”
Kucinich’s wife, Elizabeth, is among a “small delegation” accompanying him on the trip, his office said. The Syrian news report indicated that Assad also met today with British parliament member Brooks Newmark.
Kucinich’s press spokesman did not respond to inquiries on what Kucinich discussed with Assad and who financed Kucinich’s visit.
In an interview last month with The Plain Dealer, Kucinich refused to blame Assad for Syria’s unrest. He said protesters have legitimate demands for reform, but accused some there of trying to “capitalize on those legitimate demands for reform and use it push a violent agenda.”
“We also understand that there’s very serious questions raised about the conduct of the Syrian police, but we also know the Syrian police were fired upon and that many police were murdered,” Kucinich said at the time.