Ohio congressman visits Assad on ‘fact-finding mission'

Ex-presidential candidate, anti-war stalwart Dennis Kucinich explores possibilities for "peaceful solution" to internal strife in Syria.

By OREN KESSLER
June 29, 2011 04:29
2 minute read.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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US Rep. Dennis Kucinich visited Syria and its beleaguered president on Monday in what the Ohio Democrat described as a “fact-finding mission” to explore possibilities for a peaceful resolution to the violence that has rocked the country for more than three months.

In a statement on Monday, Kucinich, 64, said he had undertaken the visit after constituents asked him to look into “conditions on the ground” and whether there is a potential solution to a situation that is “spinning out of control.”

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The representative was planning to meet with “democracy activists, nongovernmental organizations, small business owners, civilians as well as government officials,” the statement said.

Kucinich’s Cleveland-area constituency includes a large Arab-American community.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said President Bashar Assad had met with Kucinich and British Conservative MP Brooks Newmark on Monday.

The Syrian leader “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,” and that Assad had “reviewed the recent events taking place in Syria and the advanced steps achieved in the comprehensive reform program,” SANA reported.



At least 1,300 people have been killed by security forces since the Syrian uprising broke out in mid-March, rights groups estimate.

On Tuesday, Kucinich said he had met with people “actively involved” in the opposition, as well as government authorities.

“I think it’s really important for people involved in making policy to hear both sides,” he told CNN, before heading to Lebanon to meet with President Michel Suleiman.

In his 14 years in Congress, Kucinich – a 2004 and 2008 presidential candidate – has earned a reputation as a standard-bearer of the Democratic Party’s most liberal wing, and has opposed US military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

In 2007, he launched impeachment proceedings against president George W.

Bush and vice president Dick Cheney for allegedly misleading Congress about Iraq’s putative nuclear weapons program.

That same year, Kucinich visited Assad. SANA quoted him at the time as recognizing Syria’s “pivotal role in bolstering security and stability in the region.”

On Monday, the Atlantic Wire website posted a video clip of an interview on Syrian television during the visit in which Kucinich praised Assad for showing “a real desire to play a role in helping to create a peaceful settlement of the conditions in Iraq as well as a grander approach towards creating peace.”

The website also quoted an article from last month in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper: “While Syrian protesters are making legitimate demands for reform, he explained, some are trying to ‘capitalize on those legitimate demands for reform and use it to push a violent agenda.’ The violence is preventing Assad from rolling out democratic reforms, he noted, adding, ‘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.’”

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