Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) went to Syria on a "fact-finding mission," earlier this week. He said the trip came about at the request of his constituents. But yesterday, after the congressman met with President Bashar Assad, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Kucinich praised Assad.
SANA quoted Kucinich as saying:
"President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this."
"President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians," said Kucinich...
Of course those comments are controversial, because the protests in Syria have been directly aimed at Assad, whose family has been in power for 40 years. As NPR's Deborah Amos reported for us, yesterday, dissidents say they witnessed Assad's forces opening fire on protesters.
In a press release, Kucinich said the report contained "mistranslations," and "did not reflect my direct quotes." He added:
"While on fact-finding mission in Syria, I was asked to share my initial reactions with some journalists, which I did. During my remarks I stressed the importance of the government paying attention to the democratic aspirations of the people of Syria. It is up to the people of Syria to decide the future of their government. There is a process of national dialogue beginning and this process is important. It is important that the Assad government listen carefully to the just demands and act positively to fulfill the democratic aspirations of the people of Syria..."
Foreign Policy says that, yes, indeed, you have to consider the source, but they also point to an interview Kucinich gave the Cleveland Plain Dealer last month. During that interview, Kucinich would not "assign blame for the current unrest in Syria."
Kucinich told the paper that protesters in Syria had legitimate demands, but some of them are trying to "capitalize on those legitimate demands for reform and use it [to] push a violent agenda."
Kucinich had previously met with Assad during a visit to Syria in 2007.
"I've read where President Assad has made certain commitments, and I would imagine that when things finally settle down, that President Assad will move in a direction of democratic reforms," Kucinich told the Plain Dealer. "He has already made that commitment from what I can see."
Politico reports that the head of the Syrian American Council, which opposes Assad, accused Kucinich of grandstanding:
"Mr. Kucinich is jumping on the bandwagon of a hot issue right now without having the background information," Yaser Tabbara, the executive director of the Syrian American Council, told Politico.
"He is perhaps taking a public relations opportunity and, unfortunately, despite his record of standing up for what's principled and what's right in terms of human rights abuses, he has gotten it severely wrong on Syria," Tabbara added.