Pelosi Visits Saudi Arabia's Council

The Associated Press
Thursday, April 5, 2007; 9:21 PM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Saudi Arabia's unelected advisory council Thursday, the closest thing in the kingdom to a legislature, where she tried out her counterpart's chair _ a privilege no Saudi woman can have because women cannot become legislators.

Pelosi, the first woman speaker of the House, said she raised the issue of Saudi Arabia's lack of female politicians with Saudi government officials on the last stop of her Mideast tour, but she refrained from criticizing the kingdom over it.

"It's a nice view from here," Pelosi said as she sat in the chair, facing the ornate chamber with its deep blue and yellow chairs and gilded ironwork. "This chair is very comfortable."

U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who was traveling with Pelosi, looked at the gavel in front of her and quipped: "It's a small gavel, Madame Speaker. You may want to wield it."

As Pelosi toured the ornate chamber, controversy over her Wednesday talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad continued. Vice President Dick Cheney said it was "bad behavior on her part" that she gave Assad a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which Israel later backed away from.

"It was a non-statement, non-sensical statement and didn't make any sense at all _ that she would suggest that those talks could go forward as long as the Syrians conducted themselves as a prime state sponsor of terror," Cheney said in an interview on Rush Limbaugh's radio program.

After her talks with Assad in Damascus, Pelosi said she had delivered a message from Olmert that Israel was ready for peace talks. Assad had replied that "he's ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel," Pelosi said Wednesday.

Olmert's office later issued a statement saying such talks could take place only if Syria stopped assisting terror groups. Before leaving Israel, Pelosi had said she would tell the Syrians that Israel would make talks conditional on their cutting ties to Palestinian militants.

Pelosi's spokesman Nadeam Elshami said the speaker made it clear to Assad that if he wants peace with Israel, then he should stop support for Hezbollah and Hamas and prevent insurgents from crossing into Iraq.

Assad has repeatedly said he wants peace talks with Israel, seeking a return of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. But efforts to bring new talks have not gotten off the ground because of the issue of Damascus' support for the militants.

Washington accuses Syria of backing Hamas and Hezbollah, two groups it deems terrorist organizations, and fueling Iraq's violence by allowing Sunni insurgents to operate from its territory.

In Riyadh on Thursday, sidestepped a question on how she felt about the absence of female Saudi council members, saying: "I am very pleased that after 200-plus years in the U.S. we finally have a speaker. It took us a long time."

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