DAMASCUS, Syria -- U.S. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, a Democratic presidential candidate, met Sunday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a Middle East peace initiative and fact-finding tour to several countries over the next five days.
In the meeting with President Assad, Kucinich is expected to discuss approaches to dealing with the continued violence and instability in Iraq, as well as to discuss the Baker Hamilton report to the U.S. Congress which recommended direct engagement with Syria as part of a new Middle East foreign policy initiative.
Kucinich said, "President Assad will be pleased to know that there are many Americans who are committed to peaceful relations. I believe that Syria can play an important and constructive role in achieving peace in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Syria has cooperated with the United States on security matters in the recent past. Only through direct engagement can we hope to achieve the level of trust and dialogue which is necessary to achieve peace." Kucinich has been campaigning across the United States and in Congress to end the war in Iraq and has drafted and introduced a comprehensive legislative plan to end the war in Iraq (House Resolution 1234.)
Referring to his own foreign policy philosophy -- "Strength through Peace" -- the Ohio Congressman and winner of the 2003 Ghandi Peace Prize, Kucinich explained, "We must have direct engagement with other nations of the world, honest diplomacy, and strict adherence to international law and treaties." He noted further, "It is what U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt called 'the science of human relations'."
Kucinich said his approach is "vastly different from the dead-end, neo-conservative 'Peace through Strength' doctrine that attempts to legitimatize unilateralism, first-strike, and preemption. I want President Assad to know that there are many in our nation and in our Congress who believe in direct diplomatic engagement."
A top Syrian official, Munir Ali, today praised Kucinich's visit in light of the recent meeting between the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and President al-Assad. "Agreements and peaceful coexistence are much more effective than occupation," he said. "Nancy Pelosi talked to people in the marketplace. This is very important. It changes people to know that someone from the U.S. government would come to Syria and talk with normal people. It builds friendship and creates a new reputation for America," Ali said.
Kucinich and his wife Elizabeth today toured the border city of Quneitra in the Golan region and spoke with local officials regarding the effects of the Israeli occupation which began in 1967. The officials took the Congressman and his wife to view the widespread destruction of Quneitra by Israel which occurred in 1973 after then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had negotiated a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria.
The Kuciniches visited the site of the "Shouting Valley" where Syrians whose families were separated through the occupation of Majdal Chams, literally shout to each other across a distance of several hundred yards in order to maintain family contact.
"The Golan region is obviously one of the issues which will come up in the discussion with President al-Assad. I felt it was important to see for ourselves to better understand the contours of the issue. As a Congressman and as a Presidential candidate, I have an obligation to see for myself," Kucinich said.
Kucinich and his wife are also visiting Jaramanh where many of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria have settled. The Congressman, who has been very active in discussing the plight of the war-torn Iraqi people, expects to take up with President Assad matters relating to refugees from Iraq.
"We are working to build a new reputation for America in the region," said Kucinich. "We want people to love America again. We want people to know that many Americans want peace and justice. Many Americans are hoping for a new role for America in the world, strength through peace. It is in that spirit that I will meet with President Assad."
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