Pelosi Acts as Arbiter Between Israel and Syria

ByABC News
April 1, 2007, 9:47 PM

April 1, 2007 — -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., obliquely defended her decision to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad later this week in direct defiance of President Bush's policy not to engage in one-on-one talks with Syrian officials.

"The time to leverage all our power is now. And the way to do it is through diplomacy, with stronger sanctions and smarter policy," Pelosi said in an address to the Israeli Knesset, where she was dramatically introduced as "Her Excellency, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives," after a band played the Israeli and American national anthems.

Pelosi did not mention her trip to Syria, but her meaning was clear.

"We in Congress will do everything in our power to seek a policy that makes America and our friends safer and the region more stable by sharing responsibility for Iraqi stability with Iraqis and their neighbors," Pelosi said.

Her visit to Syria was given support by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who urged her to convey the message to Assad that Israel would be willing to hold talks with Syria -- if Syria would take steps to stop supporting terrorism. But he also said Israel would not talk with Syria under current conditions.

White House spokesman Dan Bartlett today expanded on deputy spokesman Dana Perino's statement that visiting Syria was "a really bad idea."

"We don't believe we should be sending these types of mixed signals to the leaders of a country that is on the state sponsor of terrorism list," Bartlett said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program.

The speaker's visit marks the latest split in a government with dueling foreign policies, one from the White House and another from Pelosi and newly empowered Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Last week, the Senate joined the House in setting a deadline for American troops to withdraw from Iraq. Bush vowed to veto both bills.

Pelosi was defiant, saying, "Calm down with the threats. There is a new Congress in town. We respect your constitutional role. We want you to respect ours."