Berkley objects to Pelosi’s talks with Syria’s Assad

WASHINGTON — Bucking her party’s leadership, Rep. Shelley Berkley on Tuesday said she does not agree with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to travel to Syria and meet with President Bashar Assad.

"I would not have made that trip," said Berkley, D-Nev.

"If the Syrians are interested in becoming a positive force in the Middle East peace process and becoming a part of the world community in a positive way, the first step they should take is to recognize Israel’s right to exist," Berkley said.

She is Jewish and a leading supporter of Israel in Congress.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker "understands and respects the reluctance of some members to travel to Syria, but she feels that we must follow the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to engage Iraq’s neighbors."

The Iraq Study Group was a 10-member bipartisan panel appointed by Congress to assess the situation in Iraq and make recommendations. The study group last year said U.S. leaders should engage leaders of Syria and Iran in talks to ease the crisis in Iraq and aid the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Berkley emphasized she is not siding with President Bush, who also criticized Pelosi’s trip.

Bush said Pelosi’s trip to Syria sends mixed signals to governments in the Middle East and could be counterproductive.

"I think it is somewhat contradictory of the (Bush) administration to be criticizing Pelosi’s trip when they have made no mention of the three Republicans meeting with Assad earlier this week," Berkley said.

"It is quite disingenuous to criticize her, when they didn’t criticize their own for doing exactly the same thing," she said.

Berkley was referring to Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.; Joe Pitts, R-Pa.; and Frank Wolf, R-Va., who met with Assad on Sunday in Syria.

Berkley also said she would be "the first to stand in line to thank her," if Pelosi helps to renew peace negotiations between Israel and Syria and other Arab countries.

"It is my understanding that Pelosi is acting at the behest of (Israeli) Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert in taking a message to the president of Syria, which I think is a positive development in moving along the Middle East peace process," Berkley said.

Berkley’s relationship with Pelosi has had its ups and downs. In 2001, Berkley supported current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who was defeated by Pelosi for the post of House minority leader.

But in December, Pelosi agreed to appoint Berkley to the House Ways and Means Committee after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada put in a word on Berkley’s behalf.

Berkley said she is not worried about paying a price for speaking out against Pelosi’s trip to Syria.

"She is doing what she thinks is right. That doesn’t make her wrong. We just have different positions," Berkley said.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., said Pelosi’s trip to Syria "is an insult to the state of Israel, the young democracy of Lebanon and our troops who serve on the front line of the war on terror."

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