February 12th, 2009
05:00 AM ET
13 years ago

Kerry to travel to Syria as Obama considers engagement

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Foreign Relations Chairmain John Kerry will travel to Syria next week and meet with President Bashar Assad, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Frederick Jones told CNN that Kerry will be traveling to the Middle East, calling the senator's visit to Damascus "part of a continuing dialogue he's had with the Syrian government."

Kerry has maintined contacts with Syrian officials and recently met with the country's ambassador to the United States.

His trip comes as President Barack Obama considers engagement with Syria as well as Iran, an idea supported by Kerry.

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing, Kerry asked the administration to send a US ambassador to Syria. That post has been vacant since the Bush administration pulled the ambassador in 2005.

The Obama administration is aware of the senator's plans and the State Department is helping facilitate the trip, Jones said.

Kerry is the latest of a series of Congressional delegations to Syria. A team of seven members led by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), the chairman of the terrorism subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, met with Assad in Damascus last week, and discussed improving ties. And Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), chairman of the House Intenational Relations Committee, is also expected to travel to Damascus later this month

In early 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Syria and met with President Assad, drawing criticism from the Bush administration who accused her of being played for a fool by the Syrian leader.

Kerry is also traveling to Eygpt and Jordan. In the wake of the Israeli elections he will also travel there to meet with perspective leaders of the new government and to the Palestinian territories, where he will meet with President Mahmoud Abbas.

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