Syrian officials and government media on Tuesday hailed the Damascus visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, praising her for trying to improve relations between the two countries. However, US President Bush denounced the trip, saying it encouraged the illicit activities of the Syria's government.
Elias Mourad, director general and editor-in-chief of the Baath newspaper, told local press that Pelosi's visit confirms Syria's role in the Middle East. He further commented that US critics of the trip showed the diversity of opinions concerning Syria.
Meanwhile, Mahdi Dakhlullah, Syria's former information minister, said Pelosi's visit was "a step towards the right direction," deriding the White House's policy to isolate Syria as a failure. He added that this visit was a sign of the US' policy towards the Middle-East returning to a balanced form.
Syrian official media also strongly supported the trip with Damascus Radio welcoming it as "a step in the right direction ... because closing gates of dialogue is a flagrant mistake."
In addition, the Syria Times newspaper described Pelosi as a "brave lady" on an "invaluable" mission while the Tishrin daily paper published an editorial that guaranteed Pelosi would discover Syria's readiness to engage in constructive dialogue with the US.
Pelosi will hold talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other officials on Wednesday about which she commented "I have no illusions but great hope."
Defending her trip to Damascus on Monday in Beirut after a scathing attack by the White House, Pelosi argued that the journey was "an excellent idea" and that her meeting with el-Assad would tackle "the overarching issue of the fighting against terrorism and the role that Syria can play to help or to hinder."
Pelosi, the highest-ranking US politician to visit Syria in years, arrived in Damascus Tuesday afternoon accompanied by a bipartisan congressional delegation.
Relations between Washington and Damascus became strained in 2003 when Syria slammed the US invasion of Iraq, a stance it has maintained ever after.
The White House, on the contrary, has accused Syria of sponsoring terror and of allowing militants to use its borders to infiltrate and smuggle weapons into Iraq.
Damascus does publicly support the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Hezbollah movement which Washington considers to be terrorist organizations.
Following the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, Washington severed diplomatic ties with Damascus after accusing it of having master-minded the killing.
Syria has denied any involvement despite UN findings that implicated senior Syrian officials in the case. Washington has been under pressure to enter talks with Syria over finding a regional help package to soften violence in Iraq.
The US bipartisan Iraq Study Group directly urged the Bush administration to engage in talks with Syria and Iran over Iraq, advice utterly ignored by the White House.
(Xinhua News Agency April 4, 2007)