Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House in Washington, and the most senior Democrat, is in Syria.
Yesterday she was welcomed by Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallim. Last night she visited the Ummayid Mosque. You can see her standing in front of the head of John the Baptist – a shrine is built inside the main (Muslim) prayer hall.
After that, she walked through the Bazouriyeh market, chatting with stallholders who offered her dried figs and nuts.
This is not an arrogant visit to Syria to shout at Bashar, she seems to be showing the American public that she is engaging with the Syrian people, as much she is with the Syrian leadership. It is a very different atmosphere to last month’s visit by a Bush government official to talk about the Iraqi refugee crisis. There were no tours of Old Damascus then.
This is Pelosi hugging and kissing Syria, almost wanting to apologise for the way her rival, Bush, has treated Syria. It is also a hint that Syria would not be ignored if the Democrats come to power (there are a lot of people who would disagree with that statement – but that seems to be Pelosi’s message).
Later today she will meet Syria President Bashar Al-Assad. She is expected to tell him Israel’s view on the return of the Golan Heights. Last month, the EU’s foreign policy chief visited Damascus and publicly supported Syria’s right to regain the illegally occupied Golan Heights.
Seems almost like a holiday, staying in a luxury Damascene residence – instead of your usual two hour US visits. This is not only the most senior US official to visit Syria for four years – I think it could be the longest visit by a senior US official for many years.