Image: Pelosi, Israeli foreign minister
Kevin Frayer  /  AP
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, background, arrive Sunday for a meeting in Jerusalem.
updated 4/1/2007 3:00:16 PM ET 2007-04-01T19:00:16

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will convey an Israeli message to Syria that the country must stop supporting Palestinian militants before Israel will engage in peace talks, Israel said Sunday.

Pelosi met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the Israel part of her Mideast tour, which drew criticism from the White House because of her planned stop in Syria.

“Pelosi is conveying that Israel is willing to talk if they (Syria) would openly take steps to stop supporting terrorism,” Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin said. “But at this point the Syrian government, by openly backing terror all around the Middle East, is not a partner for negotiations.”

Israel and Syria are sworn enemies, though peace talks came close to success in 2000 before breaking down. Israel charges that Syria-based Palestinian militants are directing violence against Israeli from the West Bank and Gaza.

“I think most Americans would not think that the leader of the Democratic Party in the Congress should be meeting with the heads of a state sponsor of terror,” White House counselor Dan Bartlett said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Pelosi’s trip with six other House representatives also includes stops in the Palestinian territories, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

'We stand united with Israel’
On Sunday night, Pelosi spoke at a dinner in the parliament building, and told Israeli lawmakers that the U.S. remains strongly behind their country.

“Americans have many political differences, but we stand united with Israel now and always,” she said.

Representatives for the delegation did not immediately return calls requesting comment on the meeting with Olmert.

The meeting took an hour, twice as long as planned, and delayed Israel’s Cabinet meeting, Eisin said. Olmert and the delegation talked “extensively” about a Saudi peace plan, dormant since 2002 and relaunched last week at an Arab League summit.

Olmert welcomed the plan, which calls for a recognition by all Arab states of Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in 1967 as a “revolutionary change.” But he has expressed reservations as well.

After a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded that Israel “accept the initiative and allow an opportunity for direct, serious negotiations aimed at ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Merkel said the European Union will try to help. “I believe time is of the essence and we have to try to reach results as quickly as possible,” she said.

Speaker to meet with Abbas
Pelosi planned to talk at Israel’s parliament about the challenges that Israel and the United States face in the Middle East, and not make any statements that would go against President Bush’s staunch support for Israel, a spokesman for the delegation said.

The California Democrat and the delegation, which includes the first Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is scheduled to meet Abbas on Monday.

Ellison is also scheduled to meet with the mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, at the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. Ellison said Saturday that his presence — as a Muslim — on the trip sent a message to Israelis and Palestinians that “people can come together.”

Pelosi told Olmert that there is strong bipartisan support in the United States for demands that the Hamas-led Palestinian government moderate its stance toward Israel before international sanctions against it are lifted, Eisin said.

Pelosi’s opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq was not raised in the Olmert meeting, Eisin said.

Olmert seeks more Iran sanctions
Olmert emphasized to the delegation the need for further sanctions against Iran to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, she said.

Pelosi’s delegation met with the families of three Israeli soldiers captured by Arab militants this summer, one in Gaza and two on the border with Lebanon.

Pelosi’s visit to Israel is her second trip to the Middle East since she took over leadership of the House in January.

Other representatives traveling with Pelosi and Ellison included Democrats Henry Waxman and Tom Lantos of California, Louise Slaughter of New York and Nick Rahall of West Virginia, and Ohio Republican David Hobson.

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