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(photo credit: AP [file])
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Syria on Tuesday, leading a Congressional delegation on a trip that the White House has criticized as a mistake which could send the wrong signal.
Pelosi, who was met at Damascus airport by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, is the highest-ranking American politician to visit Syria since relations began to deteriorate in 2003.
The United States accuses Syria of interfering in Iraq and Lebanon and sponsoring terrorists - charges that Damascus denies. A White House spokeswoman has described Pelosi's visit to Syria as a "really bad idea."
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Pelosi, a Californian Democrat, did not make any comment on arrival and headed for a tour of downtown Damascus.
She is scheduled to meet President Bashar Assad and other Syrian officials on Wednesday.
Pelosi has said she will tell Syrian leaders that Israel will talk peace with them only if Syria stops supporting Palestinian terrorists.
She has said she will also talk to the Syrians about Iraq, their role in neighboring Lebanon and their support for Lebanon's Hizbullah.
Earlier Tuesday, Pelosi held talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Abbas told Pelosi that he wanted to use the meetings that he and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to hold every two weeks as an avenue for restarting peace talks.
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledged during a visit last month by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to hold biweekly meetings. No dates have so far been announced.
"The president stressed that ... without a political horizon, there can be no peaceful coexistence," Abbas aide Rafik Husseini quoted the Palestinian leader as telling Pelosi.
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.