Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) gave a press conference in Syria this week and appeared to heap praise upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is being widely criticized for the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in that country. Kucinich said his words were mistranslated.
Kucinich embarked on a trip, which he called a "fact-finding mission," to Syria and Lebanon this week, even as prominent Republicans are calling upon the Obama administration to recall the U.S. ambassador to Syria because of the repressive actions of the Assad regime.
Kucinich’s plans included meetings with the presidents of both Syria and Lebanon. He met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday. According to the State Department, Kucinich was not accompanied at the meeting by Robert Ford, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria.
"Nor has he given us a debrief, nor was he carrying any administration messages,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday.
A story by the Syrian Arab News Agency on Tuesday has Kucinich at a press conference in Syria taking a highly controversial position toward al-Assad. In May, the U.S. imposed sanctions against al-Assad as a means of pressuring him to end the violent repression there.
"President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians," Kucinich said, according to the Syrian news site. "President Bashar al-Assad 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."
Kucinich pushed back against the report later on Tuesday while in Beirut, calling the remarks "mistranslated.”
“Arab-speaking friends accompanying me have explained that the problem may have come from a mistranslation as well as the degree of appreciation and affection their state-sponsored media has for President Assad,” Kucinich said in a statement released to The Hill. “Given the stakes for Syria and the region, I will consider the article only an error, not a willful intent to mischaracterize my statements or my efforts in the region.”
Kucinich’s trip comes the same week that prominent Republicans Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, both repeated calls to recall the U.S. ambassador to Damascus.
“The regime has made it clear though its brutal actions and through the refusal of senior officials to meet with the Ambassador that it is not interested in diplomacy,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Monday. “Any continued presence of a U.S. Ambassador will either be used by the regime for propaganda purposes or just plain ignored.”
The State Department maintains that Ford’s work is useful in representing U.S. interests and encouraging the opposition’s ability to demonstrate. “We think it’s valuable not only to have an embassy in Damascus, but to have an ambassador there,” Nuland said.
Kucinich intends to continue his trip. “I did not come to Syria with my mind made up,” he said. “After discussions with people at many different levels of society, I am convinced of the need for honesty, fairness and dialogue.”
According to Kucinich, as his trip proceeds, he will be “ever more mindful of the maxim, ‘lost in translation.’”