Bush slams House speaker's Syria trip

Says move is "simply counterproductive;" Pelosi shrugs off criticism.

bush 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
bush 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush voiced displeasure on Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, saying it sends mixed signals to the region and to the government of President Bashar Assad. "There have been a lot of people have gone to see President Assad: some Americans, but a lot of European leaders, high-ranking officials. And yet we haven't seen action, Bush said at a White House news conference." He hasn't responded." He said Assad had not reined in violent elements of Hamas and Hizbullah as requested by the international community, had acted to destabilize the democratically elected government of Lebanon and were allowing "foreign fighters" to move into Iraq from Syria. "Sending delegations doesn't work. It's simply been counterproductive," Bush said. Bush spoke shortly after Pelosi arrived in Damascus, Syria, becoming the highest-ranking America to visit since relations began to deteriorate four years ago. She is leading a high-level congressional delegation that is touring the Middle East. Pelosi has shrugged off White House criticism of her visit to Damascus, saying it was an "excellent idea" for her and other lawmakers - Democrats and Republicans alike - to go to Syria. The White House has said the administration objects to all visits to Syria by high-ranking officials. "We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals," Bush said. "Photo opportunities and/or meetings with Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community." Pelosi, a Democrat, did not make any comment on arrival and headed for a tour of downtown Damascus. She is scheduled to meet Assad and other Syrian officials on Wednesday. She has 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 Syria. "We have no illusions but great hopes" for the talks with Assad, Pelosi said. While discouraging visits by US officials, the Bush 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.