Arlen Specter has impressed me this week by bucking the Bush administration and going to Syria to meet President Bashar al-Assad and then to Jerusalem to meet leading Israeli authorities and pressing for a Palestinian-Israel final settlement. He has even stated that he favors direct talks with Iran.
Specter as reported by the Jerusalem Post:
Specter brushed aside the criticism of his trip to Damascus that was voiced by some in the Bush Administration who argued that his visit, as well as recent visits by three democratic senators, granted legitimacy to the Syrian government. Specter said that as a member of the powerful Senate appropriations committee that sends billions of dollars each year to the Middle East, he was duty-bound to see first hand what was happening in the region.
Specter said that while he acquiesced to the Bush Administration’s request not to visit Damascus on previous tours to the region last December and August, “this year in coming it seemed to me that the Administration’s program is not working.”
. . .The senior Pennsylvania senator said that while he had a great deal of respect and admiration for US President George W. Bush, there were issues with which he did not agree with the president, and that it was his responsibility “to speak up, and do so in an independent way.”
. . .Specter reiterated what he said in Damascus earlier this week, that the Syrians were interested in entering into negotiations with Israel without preconditions, and that Syrian President Bashar Assad had told him that in return Syria could be helpful in dealing both with Hamas and Hizbullah.
. . .Specter, who has served in the senate for 26 years, said that the situation in the Middle East is more problematic now than at any time since he was first elected.
“I do not see anyway out except through dialogue,” he said. “I do not think there are any assurances that dialogue will succeed, but I think there are assurances that without dialogue there will be failure.”
Joe Lieberman signed his op-ed yesterday as the Independent Democratic Senator from Connecticut.
Specter looks to me increasingly like the “Independent Republican Senator from Pennsylvania” and is doing much to revive the template for Middle East regional deal-making encouraged by the Iraq Study Group.
— Steve Clemons