The head of the largest U.S.-based Syrian opposition group on Wednesday accused Rep. Dennis Kucinich of grandstanding by meeting with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and charged he was making “irresponsible, brash” statements about the situation in the country.
“Mr. Kucinich is jumping on the bandwagon of a hot issue right now without having the background information,” Yaser Tabbara, executive director of the Syrian American Council, told POLITICO.
He is, perhaps, taking a public relations opportunity, and unfortunately, despite his record of standing up for what’s principled and what’s right in terms of human rights abuses, he has gotten it severely wrong on Syria,” Tabbara added.
While Kucinich described his trip as a “fact-finding mission,” Tabbara, a Chicago attorney, said the situation in Syria is well known and called such a trip unnecessary.
“There is an international consensus as to what’s taking place in Syria constituting crimes of an international and grave nature of the Syrian regime,” Tabbara said. “Yet he makes these irresponsible, brash statements in support of the dictator ruling Syria and the person deemed to be an illegitimate president. It’s mind-boggling and confusing.”
Kucinich told CNN on Wednesday that he met with both the Assad government and opposition groups this week in Damascus.
“It’s really important that people who are involved with making policy meet with both sides,” he said.
Kucinich’s spokesman told POLITICO that the Ohio Democrat will seek to meet with the Syrian council upon his return to the U.S.
“I share the same concerns about the violence in Syria which the Syrian American Council rightly decries,” Kucinich said in a statement on Wednesday relayed by his spokesman. “I went to Syria to meet with as many parties as I could, including leaders in the opposition, people who are directly involved with trying to bring change to Syria. I also wanted to learn if President Assad was himself prepared to accept their just demands for freedoms and reforms.”
Louay Safi, chairman of the SAC, said Kucinich “probably was misled” before traveling to the country.
“He is lending legitimacy to a regime that has lost legitimacy,” Safi said. “This is for internal consumption. For many Syrians, if a congressman comes to see Assad, they think that he represents the government. … Living under a dictatorship, they think that anyone who meets with the president from congress is representative of the U.S. position on Syria.”
Kucinich, in the brief CNN interview, did not directly answer when asked whether his visit would legitimize the Assad regime.
“I met with the opposition. I heard what they had to say,” he said. “I met with the government. I heard what they have to say.”
Tabbara and Safi said Kucinich at no point has been in contact with their organization.