MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Damascus today, Syria's president, Bashar al-Assar, met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Afterwards she told reporters that they discussed a range of regional issues, including relations between Syria and Israel.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): We were very pleased with the reassurances we received from the president that he was ready to resume the peace process. He was ready to engage in negotiations with peace with Israel.
BLOCK: Pelosi's visit to Syria has been sharply criticized by the White House. New York Times correspondent Hassan Fattah is in Damascus, covering the speaker's trip. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. HASSAN FATAH (New York Times): Thank you for having me.
BLOCK: And let's talk about this question of Syria and Israel. Nancy Pelosi said that she was bringing a message from the Israeli prime minister that Israel was ready to restart peace negotiations, but now Israel is saying that Pelosi actually mischaracterized Ehud Olmert's message, that Israel only wants peace if Syria abandons the path of terror, which is what it's been saying all along.
Mr. FATTAH: That's only proven to be one of the more embarrassing parts of this trip. Ironically, Ms. Pelosi was pushing a line of peace and was there to talk about peace, in fact, throughout her Middle East trip. Unfortunately in this case Ms. Pelosi seems to have gone out a bit on a limb. The Israeli prime minister's office sought to emphasize, in fact, that she had kind of taken it one step too far and that they were not necessarily as ready as she wanted it to be sounding to discuss peace.
BLOCK: The criticism from the Bush administration has been that visits like Speaker Pelosi's send mixed signals to a regime that it considers both a state sponsor of terrorism and also allows suicide bombers to enter Iraq. Did Nancy Pelosi address those concerns today?
Mr. FATTAH: Certainly she did, and she in fact was at pains to underscore that there was no divide between the delegation certainly and members of Congress and the Bush administration. She emphasized that there was no difference between them on policy itself. It was largely just how you pursue policy.
BLOCK: What does Syria expect to come out of this meeting?
Mr. FATTAH: I think in many ways Syria's hoping to show the world that it is no longer isolated, that despite attempts by the Bush administration to isolate it both economically and diplomatically, they've managed to break through. That's the ultimate message they want to send.
BLOCK: It would seem then that this visit is being interpreted in Syria in exactly the way that the Bush administration hoped it wouldn't be, in other words that this is an opening and legitimization of the Syrian government.
Mr. FATTAH: Yes, but in many ways I think a lot of people were let down also by the trip. I think in many ways this was more about a partisan battle between Democrats and Republicans than it was about foreign policy in the Middle East.
Certainly Ms. Pelosi sought to emphasize the growing problems in Iraq and efforts to try to solve them. Just as important, she sought to emphasis efforts for peace throughout the region. But at the same time many here complained that there was no actual details. There was no specifics to any plans or anything that would move things forward.
BLOCK: Nancy Pelosi toured part of the old part of Damascus yesterday, and you wrote today in the New York Times that Nancy Pelosi's name is now a household word in that part of the city.
Mr. FATTAH: Well, it was ironic how many people in the old town actually knew Ms. Pelosi's name. Now, of course this is because of the visit, and I think that, you know, two weeks ago they probably didn't know her name as well. But certainly she's left her mark on Damascus.
I think in many ways people saw her as the beginnings of change. This is a place that's been under a lot of pressure for the past several years, going through a very serious international crisis. Many hoped that this would bring about notable change.
BLOCK: Hassan Fattah, thanks very much.
Mr. FATTAH: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Hassan Fattah, Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, speaking with us from Damascus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has left Syria. She's now in Saudi Arabia, where she'll meet with King Abdullah.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.