FACT CHECK: Republicans Attempt to Deflect Criticism of Iran Letter by Equating it to Bipartisan Delegation to Syria Led by Speaker Pelosi in 2007


After 47 Republican Senators wrote what the New York Times Editorial Board has described as “an irresponsible attempt to interfere with the negotiations,” the national reaction to this brazen partisan effort to undermine the commander-in-chief has been extremely negative:

Detroit Free Press: ‘GOP letter to Iran disgraces America’

Cleveland Plain Dealer: ‘A deeply misguided Senate letter to the leaders of Iran’

Boston Globe: ‘GOP letter to Iran is a reckless intrusion into nuclear talks’

Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: ‘GOP senators appear set on their own breakaway nation’

USA Today: ‘’Dear Iran’ letter subverts nuclear talks

Washington Post’s David Ignatius: ‘GOP senators’ letter to Iran is dangerous and irresponsible’

Arizona Republic: ’47 senators stomp on the Constitution’

Sacramento Bee: ‘GOP senators need a civics lesson and should stop meddling in Iran nuclear deal’

Concord Monitor: ‘Ayotte signs up for a dangerous political game’

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘GOP senators try a reckless move to stop Iran nuclear talks’

Courier-Journal: ‘Senate saboteurs’

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: ‘Hate mail: Senators seek to sabotage Obama’s foreign policy’

Baltimore Sun: ‘The GOP’s poison pen note’

Denver Post: ‘Grandstanding on Iran in the U.S. Senate’

Salt Lake Tribune: ‘Utah senators increase risk of war’

News & Observer : ‘Burr, Tillis add their names to outrageous letter to Iran

The usual conservative voices in the Republican Party and neoconservatives at national editorial boards predictably equated the letter with a bipartisan delegation visit by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria in 2007:

Bill Kristol on Morning Joe (3/11/2015).  …“Nancy Pelosi went to see Bashar Assad in 2007.  I think that was questionable.”

@SenatorTimScott: To those upset about #Iran letter, how did you feel when Pelosi went to Syria in 2007 to meet face to face with Assad, against WH wishes?

WSJ Editorial Page ‏@WSJopinion: Nancy Pelosi wasn’t ‘near tears’ when she courted Assad. http://on.wsj.com/1CBuMEK

But the criticism from Republicans ignores key facts:

TOP REPUBLICAN HOUSE MEMBERS MET WITH ASSAD IN SYRIA JUST BEFORE AND THE DAY AFTER THE PELOSI DELEGATION

March 31, 2007 – Assad’s Meeting with Republican Reps. Congressmen Wolf, Pitts, and Aderholt:

wolfpitts

Photo Credit: Associated Press

April 4, 2007 – Assad’s Meeting with Speaker Pelosi and the Bipartisan Delegation

assadpelosi

Photo Credit: Associated Press

April 5, 2007 – Assad’s Meeting with Rep. Issa:

assadissa

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

New York Times: Pelosi heads to Washington, and more criticism of her trip(4/6/07)

The tone of the complaints – particularly Vice President Dick Cheney’s public characterization of her visit as “bad behavior” – contrasts sharply with the administration’s silence about a similar trip to Damascus a week ago by three Republican lawmakers, Frank Wolf of Virginia, Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania and Robert Aderholt of Alabama.

Nor was there much carping from the White House about the visit to Damascus by a California Republican congressman, Darrell Issa, and his subsequent meeting with Assad, on Thursday, a day after Pelosi met with the Syrian president.

THE REPUBLICAN MEMBER OF PELOSI’S DELEGATION SAID THE DELEGATION WAS ON MESSAGE WITH THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

Jerusalem Post Editorial: Gutsy new House Speaker (4/11/07)

…Of course few could object to what she told Assad – that he should stop trouble making in Iraq and Lebanon that the Israeli government is ready for negotiations that Israel has no bellicose intentions toward Syria and that Syria should use its influence to free Israeli prisoners.

In fact, David Hobson, a Republican from Ohio who accompanied Pelosi, said that the Speaker did not stray very far from Bush administration policy. Hobson said Pelosi ‘did not engage in any Bush bashing she did not…bash Bush policies as they relate to Syria.’ Instead Hobson said Pelosi urged Assad to curb the number of suicide bombers who cross the Syrian border into Iraq to murder our troops and the Iraqi people.

Congressman Hobson, the Republican member of the bipartisan Pelosi delegation, told the Dayton Daily News (5/29/2007)

“I think actually we’ve helped the[Bush] administration’s position by showing there’s not dissension,”  Hobson said.

Mr. Hobson (R-OH) also told the Columbus Dispatch that Speaker Pelosi and the congressional delegation urged Assad to curb the number of suicide bombers who cross the Syrian border into Iraq to “murder our troops and the Iraqi people.”

THE PELOSI DELEGATION TRIP WAS PLANNED BY THE BUSH STATE DEPARTMENT AND EXECUTED BY THE BUSH DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

MSNBC’s Steve Benen –  Was Cotton’s stunt unprecedented?

So, does this disprove the criticism of Cotton & Co.?  Not really.  For one thing, Pelosi notified both the White House and the State Department in advance of her trip.  

…Pelosi honored U.S. protocols and worked with the executive branch instead of trying to circumvent it.  Let’s also not forget that the Bush administration was not actively involved in delicate negotiations with Syria at the time.

What’s more, the Democratic leader met with Assad in the hopes that engagement would be more productive than isolation, but Pelosi did not encourage the Syrian leader – or any other foreign officials – to ignore the Republican White House or distrust American foreign policy.

The Hill: Pelosi: My trip to Syria was nothing like the GOP’s Iran letter

“This visit was organized by the Bush State Department, executed by the Bush Defense Department, and officials from the Bush Administration’s Embassy at the time in Damascus even sat in the meeting with President Assad,” [Pelosi Spokesman Drew] Hammill said. “As Republican Congressman David Hobson said at the time about the delegation’s visit to Syria, ‘I think we actually helped the administration’s position by showing there’s not dissension.’

“The comparison between the Republican Senator letter to Iran and Leader’s Pelosi bipartisan delegation to the Middle East in 2007 does not stand up to any level of scrutiny,” he charged.

THE BOTTOM LINE: THERE IS SIMPLY NO PRECEDENT FOR THE IRRESPONSIBLE LETTER BY 47 REPUBLICAN SENATORS TO IRAN

McClatchy: Precedent for GOP’s Iran letter hard to find, historians say

“We haven’t found a precedent,” said Senate Historian Donald Ritchie…

Individual senators have also on occasion met with the foreign leaders on policy issues, Ritchie said. In this case, he said his office conducted a general search on disarmament issues to see if an episode similar to the Iran letter could be found.

“We really didn’t find anything,” Ritchie said.

Alan K. Henrikson, director of Diplomatic Studies and a professor of diplomatic history at Tufts University, said the Republicans’ letter “undercuts” how America conducts international diplomacy.

“Neither the Senate nor the House has sought to interfere with actual conduct of negotiations by writing an open letter to the leadership of a country with which the U.S. is negotiating,” said Henrikson, who teaches at Tufts’ Fletcher School of international affairs.

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