U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D.-Ohio) visited socially-troubled Syria earlier this week for a fact-finding mission. The politician and one-time presidential candidate said he went to Syria at the behest of the Arab-Americans in his district.
There have been mass demonstrations in Syria since March, which President Bashir al-Assad has tried to silence using armed force.
Although he said publicly that he is trying to improve democracy in his country, speculation surrounds Assad's willingness to talk with opposition leaders. Kucinich used his trip to Syria to investigate conditions on the ground.
Kucinich is known for his pacifism and said that part of his mission in Syria was to promote a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. Kucinich met with Syrian government officials, as well as with pro-democracy advocates, non-governmental organizations, civilians and small business owners.
Peace is not just the absence of war, Kucinich said in a statement.
Peace is a conscious, active pursuit that requires work and communication. My work as a member of Congress requires that I learn first-hand about events in order to better understand policy alternatives for America and other nations.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Kucinich met with President Assad, and quoted the congressman as saying: President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians... [He] cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this, at a press conference.
Assad is currently trying to suppress protests in his country using military force. The leader has seized control of a few northern cities, causing thousands of Syrians to flee across the border to Turkey. Kucinich rejected SANA's report, saying that he was misquoted by translators.
Today, the Syrian Arab News Agency published an article that contained a number of mistranslations and mischaracterized statements that I made during a news conference in Damascus, Kucinich stated.
Kucinich is currently in Lebanon, continuing his fact-finding mission.
Much like Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi did in a televised interview at the beginning of the revolution in his country, Assad has blamed the violence in Syria on saboteurs and foreign agents.
Syrian armed forces have been used to quash demonstrations, which Assad claims were started by armed gangs. The National Guard has taken control of two northern cities, and an estimated 1,400 people have been killed. Around 10,000 Syrians have fled Assad's reign and found refuge in Turkey.