ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has completed a Middle East trip that included a meeting on Wednesday with the president of Syria and a trip yesterday to Saudi Arabia where she met with its unelected advisory council. We reached Speaker Pelosi in Portugal where she is on a stopover on the way home.
Welcome to the program, Speaker Pelosi.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): A pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.
SIEGEL: You have been criticized not just by President Bush and Vice President Cheney for this trip, but even The Washington Post editorial page devotes an editorial called, Pratfall in Damascus, about your visit and talks with President Assad. Was this trip worth it?
Rep. PELOSI: The trip was, very much. I - the facts of the trip are what we are bringing back now. It's a fact-finding trip. The purpose of our trip was to assess for advancing our own national security and fighting the war on terror, what the situation was on the ground in the Middle East.
It was our purpose to come here to have a clear message to all of the countries that we're interested in peace in the Middle East, with Israel; to go to Damascus and say to President Assad the same message that President Bush has for him. While we may disagree on whether we should have a trip to Damascus, there's no division in our views and the case that we made to him.
SIEGEL: Could you just sort out for us, though, the confusion over the message that you carried from Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, which - was it...
Rep. PELOSI: There was no confusion. There was absolutely no confusion. The message that we carried from Prime Minister Olmert was the exact message that he gave us. He is a man of peace, and he expressed to us that we should express to the president of Syria his interest in going to the negotiating table, but not until Syria took steps to stop its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. And that is exactly the message that we conveyed.
SIEGEL: But the prime minister of Israel's office issued a clarification, a denial, in effect, because according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the other day, the statement from the prime minister's office - from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office - said that Olmert had told Pelosi that Israel continued to regard Syria, quote, "as part of the axis of evil and a party encouraging terrorism in the entire Middle East." If I heard you, you didn't - you don't recall him saying that in your conversation.
Rep. PELOSI: No. What he told us was that - the thrust of his statement is that Israel is prepared to go to the negotiating table. We are not preparing for war - that was the important part of it - we are not preparing for war. We're prepared to go to negotiation when Syria takes steps to stop its support of Hamas and Hezbollah.
SIEGEL: And you say that's what you told Syrian President Assad?
Rep. PELOSI: Well, not only just I. Tom Lantos, Henry Waxman - two strong supporters of Israel who - we had made a very direct message to the president on that score.
Actually, Prime Minister Olmert - his office is the one who put out the idea that we would be taking a message in the first place, because we had a meeting with the prime minister. We didn't go to the press and say what we did there, but their office put out the message that they had asked us to take this message to the Syrians.
And whatever press they heard about the visit may not have been satisfactory to them, so they may want to clarify it for that purpose. But there was no clarification needed in terms of what (unintelligible) our message was.
SIEGEL: Can you tell us, in Saudi Arabia, what did you hear from the Saudis about the House Democrats' preference and your preference for the U.S. to start withdrawing from Iraq next year?
Rep. PELOSI: Well, we - in our meeting in Saudi Arabia, they're really more related to the purpose of our trip. Our trip was to be involved in what we disagree with the president on - we already did that here. What we went to the Middle East was to convey a message of the - but where we are in agreement with the president. So our differences are what we debated in the states. What we stand together on is what the message that we took, at the least.
SIEGEL: But just to clarify, when you met with the Saudi monarch, you didn't talk about withdrawal from Iraq with him?
Rep. PELOSI: In our general debate there and we had met with him for three hours. And from - certainly the issue of troops going in and out of Syria into Iraq is part of the concern we have with Syria, and we expressed that to him. In his response, he had some opinions about Iraq, but again, it was related to the subjects that we went there to talk to him about.
And we had a wide range of subjects. We talked about Somalia. We talked about Darfur and we've spent most of our time talking about the Saudi Initiative for Middle East Peace, and how it is being received in the Arab world, and what prospect it was with the Israelis, who have obviously are the other most important part.
SIEGEL: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Rep. PELOSI: Thank you.