The Guardian has a rather odd story:
President Bashar al-Assadmet two visiting westerners, British Conservative MP Brooks Newmark and US congressman Dennis Kucinich, the first such meetings since the uprising began.
It was unclear what Newmark’s motivation was. The MP for Braintree in Essex was elected to parliament in 2005, and is a senior government whip, having been foreign affairs whip in 2009-10. The Foreign Office released a statement that he had travelled to Syria without government backing, but added that he had reiterated Britain’s stance on Syria. Asked by CNN, Kucinich declined to discuss what was said at his three-hour meeting on Sunday.
The state-run Syrian Arab News agency reported Kucinich and Newmark “expressed keenness on Syria’s security and stability as an essential pillar in the region”. Reaction to the visits and the opposition summit was cautious, with observers suggesting neither was a breakthrough while security forces continued a sustained crackdown.
The 10 July summit has also been widely dismissed by the nascent opposition, who refuse to talk until the army is back in barracks.
Here is Newmark’s take on the way forward in Syria, written in 2007 for Conservative Home. You’ll see he was an enthusiast for the bringing of Assad, supposedly the nascent democrat, into the Middle East Foreign Policy Big Tent:
But the US still clings, in a way that I hope we do not, to the notion of a neat Manichean fault-line in the Middle East. The ‘Axis of Evil’ makes for a good sound bite but for dodgy diplomacy and it draws self-consciously on Cold War rhetoric. That being so, we are forced to pose the same question as one of President Bush’s detractors: “If Ronald Reagan could talk to the Evil Empire, surely United States Senators with a responsibility to American troops can visit Syria?”
The suspicion of belligerence is not, unfortunately, dispelled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s assertion that “It is not an issue of whether you talk to somebody. I will talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime under the right circumstances if I think we can make progress. I’m not afraid to talk to anyone.”
Nevertheless, the refrain from the US is still that Syria has not met the preconditions for dialogue. As the former Deputy Secretary of State, Richard L. Armitage, has said about the need for engagement with Syria, “We get a little lazy, I think, when we spend all our time as diplomats talking to our friends and not to our enemies.”
The message of the Iraq Study Group is that a commitment to talk is not a commitment to a particular outcome, it is the manifestation of a belief in the value of diplomacy. President Bush admitted that “we benefited from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group” but he has, to all intents and purposes, ignored them.
Meanwhile, the White House still reacts pugnaciously to the Syrian government, calling it “adventurous and meddlesome in Iraq and in Lebanon.” Unfortunately that accusation could equally well be levelled against the Bush Administration.
And so on and so on.
Here, he calls for Syria to be encouraged to release the two captive soldiers in Lebanon:
The Syrians have said that they want to play a constructive role in bringing about peace in the region. What pressure is being brought to bear on the Syrian Government, given their relationship with Hezbollah, to ensure the release of the two Israeli soldiers?
The bodies of the soldiers were later brought home. In return various prisoners were released, including the child-killer, Samir Kuntar.
Here is Denis Kucinich on UFOs.