Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pelosi Visits Syria

Pelosi tours Damascus, rebuffing criticism
Sweets, carpets and diplomacy on speaker’s agenda; White House protests

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem walks Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after welcoming her to Damascus International Airport. Pelosi is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Syria since 2003.
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Bassem Tellawi / AP

DAMASCUS, Syria - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi toured Damascus on Tuesday, the highest-ranking American politician to visit Syria since relations began to deteriorate four years ago. President Bush criticized the trip, saying it sends mixed signals to President Bashar Assad.

The United States accuses Syria of interfering in Iraq and Lebanon and sponsoring terrorists — charges Syria denies. The Bush administration has resisted calls to open direct talks with Damascus on resolving the countries’ disputes.

Pelosi, D-Calif., is scheduled to meet Assad and other Syrian officials on Wednesday. She made no comment on arrival and headed for the Old City of Damascus where she toured the 8th-century Omayyad Mosque.
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Pelosi draped a scarf over her head as she entered the historic mosque and stopped at a tomb inside said to contain the head of St. John the Baptist. She made the sign of the cross in front of the tomb. About 10 percent of Syria’s 18 million people are Christian.

In the nearby outdoor Bazouriyeh market, she chatted with Syrians, who offered her dates, in front of shops selling olive oil soaps, spices and herbs. At one point, she bought some coconut sweets and looked at Syrian carpets.

A White House spokeswoman had described Pelosi’s visit to Syria as a “really bad idea” and President Bush also questioned the trip at a news conference on Tuesday.

“We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals,” he told reporters in the Rose Garden of the White House.

“Photo opportunities and-or meetings with Assad lead the Assad government to believe they’re part of the mainstream of the international community,” the president said.

No comment from Damascus
Pelosi shrugged off White House criticism of her visit, saying in Lebanon on Monday that it was an “excellent idea” for her and other lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — to go to there. “We have no illusions but great hopes” for her talks with Assad, Pelosi said.

“It’s interesting because three of our colleagues, who are all Republicans, were in Syria yesterday and I didn’t hear the White House speaking out about that,” Pelosi said Monday, referring to the Sunday meeting of Reps. Frank Wolf, Joe Pitts and Robert Aderholt with Assad in Damascus.

“I think that it was an excellent idea for them to go,” Pelosi said. “And I think it’s an excellent idea for us to go, as well.”

While discouraging visits by U.S. officials, the administration is talking to Syria as part of international conferences on Iraq. The first was held last month in Baghdad. Another, to include foreign ministers, was expected to be held sometime this month in the region.

Talks with Abbas in Ramallah
Earlier Tuesday, Pelosi held talks with Mahmoud Abbas in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinian president told her he wanted to use his meetings with the Israeli prime minister as an avenue for restarting peace talks.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged during a visit last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to hold meetings every two weeks. No dates have so far been announced.

Olmert has said he will not talk to Abbas about ingredients of a final peace deal, such as the borders of a future Palestinian state, until Palestinians stop firing rockets into Israel from Gaza and release an Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza for the past nine months.

Abbas has pushed for the meetings to focus on the thorny issues underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a stance he reiterated Sunday with Pelosi.

“The president stressed that ... without a political horizon, there can be no peaceful coexistence,” Abbas’ aide Rafik Husseini said.

Palestinian media boycott
Palestinian media crews boycotted Tuesday’s meeting as a protest against the Palestinian government’s failure to free a BBC journalist kidnapped in Gaza on March 12.

The BBC says it has received no word on the whereabouts or condition of Alan Johnston, 44. No demands have been issued by the kidnappers. Johnston has been held longer than any of the other 11 journalists kidnapped in Gaza over the past three years. All of the previous hostages were released unharmed, most within days.

Pelosi is traveling with a delegation of U.S. lawmakers, including the first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Pelosi has said she will tell Syrian leaders that Israel will talk peace with them only if Syria stops supporting Palestinian militants. She has said she will also talk to the Syrians about Iraq, their role in neighboring Lebanon and their support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

NEWSWEEK Poll: 90% Believe in God - Newsweek Beliefs - MSNBC.com

NEWSWEEK Poll: 90% Believe in God - Newsweek Beliefs - MSNBC.com

March 30th 2007 Is this the beginning of the End ?

Bush attacks Iran over captives
President George W Bush
President Bush said Iran must return the hostages
President George W Bush has condemned Iran's "inexcusable behaviour" after its capture of 15 Royal Navy personnel.

The US leader added that he would "strongly support" the British government over the crisis.

However, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has attacked the UK as "arrogant and selfish".

He insisted that "British occupier forces" trespassed into Iranian waters and that his country's border guards had displayed "skill and bravery".

'Inexcusable behaviour'

Speaking at his mountain retreat in Camp David, Maryland, Mr Bush told reporters: "The British hostages issue is a serious issue because the Iranians took these people out of Iraqi water.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The British government, instead of apologising and expressing regret over the action taken, started to claim that we are in their debt
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

"And it is inexcusable behaviour.

"I strongly support the Blair government's attempts to resolve this peacefully.

"And I support the Prime Minister when he made it clear there were no quid pro quos.

"The Iranians must give back the hostages."

But in a speech in the city of Andinmeshk, Mr Ahmadinejad attacked Britain for failing to apologise.

He said: "The British occupier forces did trespass our waters. Our border guards detained them with skill and bravery."

"But arrogant powers, because of their arrogant and selfish spirit, are claiming otherwise.

"After the arrest of these people, the British government, instead of apologising and expressing regret over the action taken, started to claim that we are in their debt and shouted in different international councils.

"But this is not the legal and logical way for this issue."

1 Crew boards merchant ship 1.7NM inside Iraqi waters
2 HMS Cornwall was south-east of this, and inside Iraqi waters
3 Iran tells UK that merchant ship was at a different point, still within Iraqi waters
4 After UK points this out, Iran provides alternative position, now within Iranian waters

Britain denies Iran's claims that the UK crew was in its waters when seized on 23 March and is demanding their "immediate" return.

Iran's official IRNA news agency had carried a report saying Gholamreza Ansari, Iran's ambassador to Moscow, had told Russian television that legal moves had already started against the 15 and that there was a possibility they could stand trial.

But the agency later quoted Mr Ansari saying the television channel had made a "translation mistake" and that he had not mentioned the prospect of a trial.

1 Royal Navy crew stray 0.5km inside Iranian waters
2 Iran gives set of co-ordinates to back up their claims
3 According to seized GPS equipment, the Royal Navy crew had previously entered Iranian waters at several other points
4 Iran informs Britain of the position where the crew were seized, inside Iranian waters

Both versions in more detail

UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Mr Ansari's comments were "unhelpful".

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said that, although there was no sign of a major diplomatic breakthrough in the crisis, there was now a sense of dialogue between the two countries.

Both sides appeared to be "lowering the temperature", he added.

Previously, US state department spokesman Sean McCormack had rejected suggestions that a swap could be made for five Iranians captured in Iraq by US forces in January.


The Iranians, believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guard, were taken in a raid in the city of Irbil, along with equipment which the Americans say shows clear Iranian links to networks supplying Iraqi insurgents with technology and weapons.

They will have to be released by diplomatic means and I believe that this will happen
Neil Whittaker, Lancashire, UK

Send us your comments

Meanwhile, former hostage Terry Waite, who was held captive for 1,760 days in Beirut before being released in November 1991, has offered to travel to Iran to negotiate with those holding the Britons.

Mr Waite said threatening the Iranian government was counterproductive and said he would be able to "cut through some of the rhetoric".

The Britons, based on HMS Cornwall, were seized by Revolutionary Guards as they returned from searching a vessel in the northern Gulf.