WASHINGTON – Top Democrats sought to tamp down on Wednesday any speculation that Rep. Tom Lantos — or possibly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — may be traveling to Iran, a day after revealing their willingness to travel there.
"No, the speaker has no intentions of going to Iran," Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said Wednesday afternoon in a telephone interview with FOXNews.com.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also confirmed Wednesday that he is not going to Iran, although he didn't discount others who may make such plans. Reid pointed to the Iraq Study Group's recommendation that the United States begin discussions — at the foreign ministerial level — with Middle East nations, including Syria and Iran.
"The president is not doing that. He had a little meeting that really didn't amount to much. I think there should be, as the Iraqi Study Group said, strenuous, diplomatic negotiations with all the parties mentioned. I personally am not going to Iran, but that's up to individual members," Reid said.
Pelosi and Lantos last week returned from a high-profile trip to the Middle East which included a stop in Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad. During their travel, which was roundly criticized by the media and occurred against the recommendations from the Bush administration, Lantos commented that the congressional delegation "had an alternative Democratic foreign policy."
On Tuesday Lantos, appearing with Pelosi in California, told reporters that he has tried to go to Iran several times but has been unable to get a visa from the Islamic government. He said he'd like to go, and imagined that Pelosi also would like to travel there.
"Speaking just for myself, I would be ready to get on a plane tomorrow morning, because however objectionable and unfair and inaccurate many of [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's statements are, it is important we have a dialogue with him," Lantos said.
"So, speaking for myself, I'm ready to go. And knowing the speaker, I think she might be," he said.
Pelosi sidestepped the topic of Iranian travel plans, but said despite criticism for the trip she took for going to Syria, it was good to be able to meet with officials "and give a direct message about how important, for example, peace with Israel and stopping the support of terrorism, and certainly stopping the flow of fighters into Iraq."
She also said that Lantos, being a Holocaust survivor, brings a good resume to foreign policy discussions in the region.
"I find the president of Iran's remarks to be so repulsive that they're outside the circle of civilized human behavior," she said. "But a person of Mr. Lantos' stature and personal experience is saying that, even as a Holocaust survivor and even recognizing the outrageous statements of the president of Iran, I think it's important to have dialogue. I think that speaks volumes about the importance of dialogue."
Asked to respond to talk of a possible Iran trip, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested Wednesday that administration officials aren't terribly concerned about Lantos' comments. He said foreign governments know who's speaking for the United States.
"Whatever members of Congress ultimately decide to do with respect to their travel schedule, I don't think that there's any confusion on the part of the American people or of the international system as to who is responsible for the formulation of foreign policy as well as its execution," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "That is the executive branch, led by President Bush."
Still, news of a potential trip to a terror-sponsoring nation sparked a fiery response from at least one possible presidential contender. Jim Gilmore, who was governor of Virginia when many residents were killed in the the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack against the Pentagon, said Pelosi's interest in a trip to Iran and her visit to Syria "send the signal to foreign governments that American diplomacy is up and down like a teeter-totter."
Speaking to FOXNews.com, Gilmore said Lantos shouldn't try to head to Iran and should leave diplomatic missions up to the executive branch. In the meantime, he said Americans should be concerned about Iran's continuing on its path of trying to obtain nuclear weapons.
He said he was glad to hear that Pelosi's staff denies a trip is in the making.
"We simply cannot have congressional leadership undercutting the president of the United States in the conduct of foreign policy," he said.
Upside to Syria Trip?
Late Wednesday, Pelosi’s office told FOX News that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had called her on Monday and "thanked her" for "her efforts" in Syria.
Pelosi earned derision for her shuttle diplomacy skills during her trip after telling the press following her visit with Assad that she had relayed a message from Olmert saying that the Israelis were ready for peace talks with Syria.
Within hours of the statement, Olmert's office issued a statement denying that he asked her to convey any such statement to Assad. He also said that Israeli foreign policy has not changed — Syria must renounce its ties to terror groups before any talks can occur.