Earlier Monday morning, CNN's Hala Gorani, one of the few Western journalists who has been allowed to enter Damascus, Syria, issued a strange tweet: "Ran into Dennis Kucinich in another hotel. Told me he's on fact-finding mission. Met w Assad for 3 hrs yest. Wouldn't elaborate." What is the antiwar, anti-Libya campaign Democratic House member from Ohio doing meeting with the head of a regime accused of killing more than 1,300 people in its crackdown on antigovernment protests?
The answer is proving elusive. The only report on the visit thus far comes from Syria's state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, which said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with a Kucinich-led delegation followed by British Conservative Party politician Brooks Newmark. SANA provides photos of the meetings, although none appears to show Kucinich (the story has since been picked up by AFP/NOW Lebanon and a couple others). According to SANA, Assad emphasized the importance of distinguishing between the "legitimate demands" of protesters and the "organized armed groups" who are hijacking those demands to "create chaos and destabilize the country." Kucinich and Newmark, meanwhile, "expressed keenness on Syria's security and stability as an essential pillar in the region," the report said. Does that language ring a bell with any Kucinich-watchers out there? In fact, SANA quoted Kucinich as recognizing Syria's "pivotal role in bolstering security and stability in the region" during a visit with Assad back in 2007, when Kucinich was a presidential candidate. In this segment, aired on Syrian state television at the time, Kucinich explained how Assad "showed 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 toward creating peace."
In fact, in an interview with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland in May, Kucinich used words that sound almost identical to Assad's to describe the Syrian uprising. 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, Kucinich 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." We'll be reaching out to Kucinich's office for comment, and we'll let you know if we hear back.
Update: A look at the Plain-Dealer's archives reveals that Kucinich earned the ire of conservatives when he criticized the Iraq war on Syrian TV in 2007. Kucinich responded by turning to his supporters for campaign donations:
Today I am being attacked as a traitor and vilified for reaching out to people of the region, hearing their concerns, and discussing those concerns openly in public forums. My campaign is in need of immediate financial assistance to respond to a right-wing hate machine that went into overdrive on the 6th anniversary of 9/11, using my visit to Syria and Lebanon as red meat for their attack dogs.
- Assad: Need to Differentiate Between Legitimate Demands and Armed Groups, Syrian Arab News Agency
- Kucinich Won't Assign Blame in Syria, Sabrina Eaton, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer