Former Syrian MP and political prisoner Mamoun al-Homsi, Kurdish activist Djengizkhan Hasso of the Executive Council of the National Assembly of Kurdistan, and I recently met with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office. National Security Adviser Steven Hadley, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, National Security Adviser to the Vice President John Hannah, and several other officials also attended the hour-long meeting.
Coming close on the heels of the Annapolis conference, which brought together representatives from all Arab states – including Syria – and Israel, many observers regarded our meeting as a signal of the Bush administration’s refusal to normalize bilateral relations with Syria or strike any deals or bargains with its regime.
Indeed, these views may not be far off the mark. For, while talking to us, Bush did not try to mask his disdain for Syria’s rulers, and he rejected the possibility of direct talks or any improvement in relations. As such, the “positive body language” that Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Emad Moustapha, said he detected during his brief encounter with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the Annapolis meeting was outweighed by Bush’s negative verbal language during our meeting. And we all know where the buck stops.
For our part, we underscored the worsening human rights situation in Syria. Indeed, no sooner did our meeting finish, and with the world commemorating International Human Rights Day, the Syrian regime launched a massive campaign of arrests and intimidation directed against some of the country’s most prominent dissidents. Though many were freed within hours, some remain in jail.