BY MALLORY SHELBOURNE
01/25/17 The Hill
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday acknowledged she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a secret trip to Syria.
In an interview with CNN’s “The Lead,” Gabbard defended meeting Assad and said any peace negotiations must include the Syrian leader whose regime has been embattled in a civil war with rebel groups since 2011.
“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria. In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him,” Gabbard said.
“The Syrian people will determine his outcome and what happens with their government and their future.”
A report emerged last week that Gabbard had made the “fact-finding” trip to Syria, though her spokeswoman declined at the time to comment on whether she met with Assad.
“My reason for going to visit Syria was really because of the suffering of the Syrian people that has been weighing heavily on my heart,” Gabbard told CNN on Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she knew nothing of the trip and hasn’t heard from Gabbard since her return.
“I have no knowledge of the trip,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “I don’t know any of the particulars of it. I don’t know the basis of the invitation, I don’t know the auspices under which she went. I don’t know and she hasn’t reported anything to our office, as far as I know.
“So when I know more about it, I’ll have something to say about it.”
In a release, Gabbard’s office said the trip was approved by the House Ethics Committee and was sponsored by the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services.
“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it,” she said in the release. “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, a veteran of the Iraq War, was critical of the Obama administration’s decision to arm moderate opposition groups fighting the Assad regime. She has argued that removing Assad would create a vacuum that terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al Qaeda would fill.
Gabbard, 35, was a vocal supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders‘s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign and has been considered a rising star in the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.