Syria's Bashar Assad wants to give out his own phone number to the United States President Donald Trump in case he wants to call him, Lebanese local media reported yesterday. The reports stated that Assad wanted Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii and a major in the Army National Guard, to give his number to Trump. She met last November with Trump shortly after the presidential election.
Gabbard revealed that she met with Assad while on a trip to Syria in late January. She has come under intense criticism for meeting with Assad. But she said there's no possibility of a viable peace agreement unless Assad is part of the conversation. She said her trip included stops in Aleppo and Damascus, Syria's capital. She also visited Beirut during the trip, which began in mid-January. Gabbard said she also met with refugees, Syrian opposition leaders, widows and family members of Syrians fighting alongside terrorist groups like al-Qaida, and Syrians aligned with the Assad regime. Her trip was approved by the House of Representatives Ethics Committee, and was led and sponsored by the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services, according to her office's statement.
Gabbard's announcement came as Trump prepares to craft a new U.S. policy in Syria. Trump has oftentimes spoken critically of regime change in Syria.
The Trump administration declared last Friday that it wasn't pursuing a strategy to push Assad out of power, making clear its focus is on defeating the Daesh terrorist group. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Thursday drew criticism for playing down a long-standing U.S. goal of persuading Assad to leave power to help end the six-year-long Syrian civil war.
Lawmakers have accused the Assad regime of war crimes and even genocide as the number of people killed during the violence in Syria continues to mount. The Syrian civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, contributed to Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II and given the Islamic State group room to grow into a global terror threat.
While the statements of Trump's policy, by themselves, break little from where former President Barack Obama left U.S. policy upon exiting office, they differ sharply from Obama's earlier demands for Assad to leave power. Five months into Syria's civil war, Obama gave a high-profile speech saying "the time has come for President Assad to step aside."