Mr. Smith Goes to Syria

By Chris Kissel March 10, 2009

This weekend, the Obama Administration announced they're sending a senior-level delegation to kick-start serious diplomacy with Syria, now considered a linch pin for peace negotiations in the region, but long considered in-league with groups that are labeled terrorists by the U.S. (Along with Iran, Syria has been the main patron of Hezbollah.)

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA, 9) voiced support for the escalation of the peace process initiated by the State Department:  "Sending senior officials from the Administration to initiate dialogue is a step in the right direction," Smith said.


Indeed, the Obama administration's announcement follows up groundwork that has already been laid by Smith. Rep. Smith led the official, State Department-sanctioned delegation to Syria back in late January. The group, made up of six other members of the House Armed Forces Subcommitee on Terrorism, which Smith chairs, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss a possible diplomatic relationship between Syria and the U.S.

"[Rep. Smith] would say the talks with Syria were encouraging, but we must also be realistic about the many difficulties we face moving forward," Smith spokesman Michael Amato told PubliCola. "He understands that it is necessary to foster relationships in the region in order to create and maintain stability and to stamp out extremist groups that are a threat to both the region and the U.S."

Not all members of the group were as thrilled as Smith to be talking with Assad about lifting trade barriers—one member of the group, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX, 2) is currently co-sponsoring a bill that would tighten sanctions against Syria.


And Washington State's Republican Delegation to DC may not be too excited about the momentum Smith has given the Obama Administration on Syria, either. According to, a non-profit that tracks Congressmembers on key votes and bill sponsorships, Reps. Doc Hastings (R-WA, 4), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA, 5) and Dave Reichert (R-WA, 8) all supported last year's version of the Syria sanction bill. That bill called to isolate Syria from the diplomatic process until they had proven that they'd moved toward a democratic government.

None of their offices could be reached for comment. The suspicion that Syria collaborated with al-Qaida in Iraq and has worked to develop nuclear weapons, as well as the concern that a relationship with Syria would demand many concessions on the part of the U.S, has informed American policy there in the past.

Rep. Smith's office said he will continue to be supportive of the Obama Administration's reversal of Bush Administration policies on Syria, as the State Department continues to send delegations to begin negotiating terms. “The Administration is mindful of the challenges we face and does not believe they will be easy to overcome, but the road to solving our problems starts with dialogue," Smith said.
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