US lawmaker says she made secret trip to Syria
WASHINGTON - The US congresswoman who made a recent secret trip to war-torn Syria said Wednesday she met there with President Bashar al-Assad as part of her effort to end the years-long conflict.
House Democrat Tulsi Gabbard this month traveled to Damascus and the decimated city of Aleppo on a fact-finding mission, where she met with refugees, Syrian opposition leaders and relatives of fighters on both sides of the divide, in addition to Assad.
"Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it," Gabbard said in a statement.
"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."
In an interview on CNN, she added: "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."
Gabbard, 35, was a member of the Hawaii National Guard and was deployed to Iraq in 2005.
Two weeks after Donald Trump won the November 8 election, she met with him to discuss Syria, raising speculation that he might consider her for a position at the Pentagon or State Department.
Gabbard, who often clashes with her own party on issues related to Syria, has long opposed a US policy of regime change there, arguing that the country would descend further into chaos should Assad be ousted.
"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; and indirectly through Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Turkey, who in turn support these terrorist groups," she said.