DAMASCUS, Syria – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria to meet President Bashar Assad sends a signal that the rogue nation is part of the international mainstream when it is not, President Bush said in a Rose Garden address Tuesday.
Pelosi, D-Calif., arrived in Syria earlier that day, leading a Congressional delegation on a trip that the White House has criticized.
“It’s one thing to send a message,” Bush said. “It’s another thing to have the person receiving the message actually do something. Sending delegations hasn’t worked, it’s simply been counterproductive.”
Pelosi, who was met at Damascus airport by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, is the highest-ranking American politician to visit Syria since relations began to deteriorate in 2003.
The United States accuses Syria of interfering in Iraq and Lebanon and sponsoring terrorists — charges that Damascus denies. A White House spokeswoman has described Pelosi's visit to Syria as a "really bad idea."
Pelosi has shrugged off the criticism, pointing out that Republican members of Congress have also visited Syria. During a visit to neighboring Lebanon Monday, she said she considers the visits to be an "excellent idea" and was hopeful of rebuilding lost confidence between Washington and Damascus.
"We have no illusions but we have great hope," she said.
Pelosi, did not make any comment on arrival and headed for a tour of the Old City of Damascus where she toured the 8th-century Omayyad Mosque.
Pelosi draped a scarf over her head as she entered the historic mosque and stopped at a tomb inside the mosque said to contain the head of St. John the Baptist. She made the sign of the cross in front of the tomb. About 10 percent of Syria's 18 million people are Christian.
In the nearby outdoor Bazouriyeh market, she chatted with Syrians, who offered her dates, in front of shops selling olive oil soaps, spices and herbs. At one point, she bought some coconut sweets and looked at Syrian carpets.
She is scheduled to meet Assad and other Syrian officials on Wednesday and is traveling with the first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison, D-Minn.
Earlier Tuesday, Pelosi held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Her tour of the Middle East has also taken her to Israel and Lebanon. She is due to go to Saudi Arabia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.