The United States must stop support for terrorism either through Turkey, Saudi Arabia or direct funding of Daesh, says an American lawmaker, returning from a secret meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard met with Assad during a covert, four-day trip to Syria, she told CNN’s Jake Tapper Wednesday.
“When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so because I felt that it’s important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we can achieve peace,” the Hawaiian congresswoman said.
Gabbard told Tapper she decided to visit the country “really because of the suffering of the Syrian people that has been weighing heavily on my heart.”
“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it,” she said, yet breaking the taboo by adding, “I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering.”
Gabbard also suggested that Assad is essential in bringing back calm to Syria, an idea rejected by mainstream Western politicians.
“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria. In order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him,” she told CNN.
Gabbard has been an outspoken critic of U.S. support for Syrian militias fighting Assad, some of which are Islamist, or fight alongside al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. Gabbard has decried U.S. aid, which is sometimes routed covertly through countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as tantamount to “arming terrorists.” She has introduced legislation that would prohibit the federal government from providing “weapons, cash, intelligence or any support” not only to al-Qaeda, ISIS or other extremist groups, but other militias “cooperating” with them.
The 35-year-old member of the Hawaii National Guard, who has also served in Iraq, met the Syrian leader two weeks after GOP nominee Donald Trump won the US 2016 presidential election on Nov. 8, triggering speculations that she might be offered a position by the new administration to deal with the situation in Syria.
“We must stop directly and indirectly supporting terrorists — directly by providing weapons, training and logistical support to rebel groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh); and indirectly through Saudi Arabia, the [Persian] Gulf states and Turkey, who in turn support these terrorist groups,” she noted.
“Regardless of the name of these groups, the strongest fighting force on the ground is al Nusra, or al Qaeda, and ISIS. That is a fact,” she claimed. “There are a number of different other groups. All of them are essentially fighting alongside, with or under the command of the strongest group that’s trying to overthrow Assad.”
Damascus has long been complaining that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar are the main supporters of the Takfiri militants fighting committing war crimes in Syria.
In September 2014, the US and some of its allies started conducting airstrikes inside Syria against Daesh terrorists, many of whom were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to fight against the Syrian government.
According to observers, the attacks have done little damage to the terrorists and instead are aimed at weakening the country’s infrastructure.
In November, Gabbard met with then-President-elect Donald Trump to discuss Syria and terrorism policy. Trump has also argued that keeping Assad in power may be better for U.S. interests than continuing to back opposition militias.