Washington: Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu lawmaker in the US Congress who met with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this month, has said that there is no possibility for a “viable” peace agreement in the war-torn country unless he is part of the conversation.
Democrat Gabbard, a major in the Army National Guard, told CNN that she met with Assad during a secret “fact-finding” trip she took to the country.
“My reason for going to visit Syria was really because of the suffering of the Syrian people that has been weighing heavily on my heart. I wanted to see if there was in some small way that I could express the love and the ‘aloha’ — a Hawaiian word used when greeting — and the care that the American people have for the people of Syria and to see firsthand what was happening there,” she told the channel.
Gabbard, elected to the House of Representatives from Hawaii, said on Wednesday that she did not originally intend on meeting with Assad, who has been accused of using chemical weapons on his own people over the course of a more than five year civil war, New York Daily News reported.
“But when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it,” Congresswoman Gabbard, who supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the last year’s primaries, said.
“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria,” Gabbard told CNN, adding that there is no possibility for a viable peace agreement in Syria unless Assad is part of the conversation.
Gabbard’s visit breaks with others in her party who have said that peace in Syria is contingent upon Assad leaving power. The US officials have for years maintained that Assad must be removed from power.
Former President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that the autocrat should not be part of Syria’s future, though Assad is currently more entrenched in power after receiving military support from Russia.
She said that the “moderate” rebels supported by the US are no different from extremists in the region such as al-Qaeda and the ISIS, and has introduced legislation to stop US government funding going towards those who may indirectly use the money to help terrorist organisation.
It is still unclear how the new US administration led by President Donald Trump will handle the Syrian war, which the UN says has killed more than 400,000 people.
Trump, during debates with Hillary Clinton, had said that the US does not know who the anti-Assad rebels really are, and praised the Syrian president for fighting ISIS.