AP - Three Republican congressmen who parted with President Bush by meeting with Syrian leaders said Wednesday it is important to maintain a dialogue with a country the White House says sponsors terrorism.
"I don't care what the administration says on this. You've got to do what you think is in the best interest of your country," said Rep. Frank Wolf (news, bio, voting record), R-Va. "I want us to be successful in Iraq. I want us to clamp down on Hezbollah."
Washington accuses Syria of backing Hamas and Hezbollah, two groups it deems terrorist organizations. The Bush administration also says Syria is contributing to the violence in Iraq by allowing Sunni insurgents to operate from its territory and is destabilizing Lebanon's government.
Bush sharply criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., for leading a delegation to meet with Syria's president, Bashar Assad.
The White House, however, stayed relatively quiet about a similar trip just a few days earlier by Wolf and GOP Reps. Robert Aderholt (news, bio, voting record) of Alabama and Joseph Pitts (news, bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania.
Returning on Wednesday, the lawmakers said they made clear to Assad that they support Bush and were not representing the administration. But they said they felt it was important to keep open lines of communication.
"This is an area where we would disagree with the administration," Aderholt said. "None of us in the Congress work for the president. We have to cast our own votes and ultimately answer to our own constituents. ... I think there's room that we can try to work with them as long as they know where we draw the line."
A White House spokesman, Alex Conant, said the administration tries to deter lawmakers from both parties from engaging Assad.
"We discourage all visits to Syria because it's a state sponsor of terror," he said. "A lot of officials have gone, and it hasn't changed the Syrians' behavior."
Associated Press writer Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report.
source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070405/ap_on_go_co/republicans_syria [link]