ABC, Fox News reported on Rice meeting with Syrian foreign minister without noting relentless criticism of Pelosi trip

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

Two major nightly news programs -- ABC's World News with Charles Gibson and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume -- have reported on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's May 3 meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem without mentioning that the Bush administration and other Republicans lambasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad just weeks earlier, even though her delegation included a Republican member of Congress, and a Republican-led delegation had met with Assad two days earlier. Furthermore, both ABC and Fox News covered criticism of Pelosi for meeting with Assad in early April.

On the May 3 edition of World News, host Charles Gibson noted that "[r]epeatedly, the Bush administration has said it would not meet with nations like Syria it says sponsors terror" and aired a report in which ABC News senior foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto asked Rice: "You, yourself, said in January of this year that direct negotiations, in your words, would put us in the role of supplicant. Why now?" Still, both Gibson and Sciutto ignored attacks on Pelosi for the Syria trip.

From the May 3 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: Next, we turn to a major diplomatic effort to end the war in Iraq. Officials from the U.S. and dozens of nations met in Egypt today, but one single conversation got all the attention. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting her counterpart from Syria. Repeatedly, the Bush administration has said it would not meet with nations, like Syria, it says sponsors terror. But meet they did today. ABC's Jim Sciutto reports from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.

[begin video clip]

SCIUTTO: Of the 60 countries represented here, it was a meeting between just two of them, the U.S. and Syria, that marked the biggest change. In an interview with ABC News, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the meeting important.

[begin video clip]

SCIUTTO: You, yourself, said in January of this year that direct negotiations, in your words, would put us in the role of supplicant. Why now?

RICE: It's not a bad chance to remind the Syrians of their obligations, to talk about -- talk to them about the need to stop the flow of those foreign fighters, the biggest source, probably, of suicide bombers.

[end video clip]

SCIUTTO: Just today, U.S. commanders in Iraq said Syria was making progress stemming the flow of insurgents across Syria's border into Iraq. Secretary Rice also met briefly with her Iranian counterpart, though her spokespeople went out of their way to downplay the encounter as no more than a hello. Still, the end of the Bush administration's long-term refusal to speak with Syria or Iran is one sign of the urgency felt here. The largest summit since the U.S. invasion is rallying international support to stabilize Iraq, granting Iraq $30 billion in debt relief in return for political reforms, including promises by Iraq's Shiite-dominated government to boost Sunni participation, something Iraq's foreign minister seemed less than keen to support.

On the May 3 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent James Rosen reported that "Secretary Rice described her meeting with her Syrian counterpart, her first ever, and the highest level contact between the two countries in more than two years, as professional and businesslike." That was followed by a clip of an interview with Rosen and Rice in which Pelosi's congressional delegation to the Middle East and the subsequent criticisms were not discussed.

From the May 3 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

ROSEN: Secretary Rice described her meeting with her Syrian counterpart, her first ever, and the highest level contact between the two countries in more than two years, as professional and businesslike. In an interview with Fox News, Rice said she urged Syria to stanch the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.

[begin video clip]

ROSEN: Did you come away convinced they will act toward that?

RICE: We will wait and see.

ROSEN: So, that's a no, you were not convinced?

RICE: OK, I am not convinced by words. I'm convinced by action.

[begin video clip]

ROSEN: Aides to Rice say the Syrians expressed the desire to see the U.S. return its ambassador, who was withdrawn from Damascus in 2005 following the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister.

Similarly, on the May 4 edition of Special Report, Rosen again reported on Rice's meetings with her Syrian counterpart without also mentioning Pelosi's trip to Syria and the harsh criticism that followed.

From the May 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

ROSEN: Secretary of State Rice wrapped up three days of nonstop conference meetings on Iraq by urging world leaders to make good on their promises this week to help stabilize the fledging war-torn democracy at the heart of the Middle East.

RICE: It gave us a chance, all of us, including the Iranians, and the United States, and, for that matter, the Syrians -- we've not been in the same room together -- it gave us an opportunity to commit to doing something about the problems that Iraq faces in becoming more stable.

ROSEN: Chief among Iraq's problems, Rice made clear, is the steady stream of weapons, explosives, and suicide bombers across Iraq's borders and into Baghdad. For this, Washington has primarily blamed Syria, with whose foreign minister Rice met on Thursday afternoon for the first time ever, and Iran, whose foreign minister, rather than sit across from Rice at a large dinner Thursday night, fled, claiming to have been offended by the sultry red dress worn by a performing violinist.

On Friday, however, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, did speak with Iran's deputy foreign minister for a few minutes on the sidelines of a larger gathering. Crocker told reporters he used the brief, unplanned encounter to reinforce Rice's message and ended it with a simple, "I hope you have a nice day."

RICE: Our officials did, as they did in Baghdad, have an opportunity to exchange views about the substance of this meeting, which is how to help Iraq be more secure and the responsibilities of neighbors and those who are active in Iraq to help the Iraqis secure themselves.

ROSEN: Iraq's foreign minister said his country has an interest in reducing tensions between the U.S. and Syria and Iran and welcome the assistance of his fellow Muslims to put an end to the sectarian violence that pits Sunni versus Shiite.

Both ABC and Fox News covered Pelosi's trip to Syria in early April, noting attacks by the administration and congressional Republicans. On the April 1 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, weekend news anchor Ron Claiborne said: "Pelosi will address Israeli parliament and then head for Syria for talks with President Assad on Iraq and other security issues. The Bush administration denounced Pelosi's visit to Syria, which is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism." On the April 8 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos said to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI): "Speaker Pelosi took a lot of heat this week for her trip to Syria," and proceeded to play a clip of Vice President Dick Cheney's attack on Pelosi in which he said: "I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part. I wish she hadn't done it, but she is the speaker of the House, and fortunately I think the various parties involved recognize she doesn't speak for the United States."

Similarly, on the April 10 edition of Special Report, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle noted criticisms of Pelosi's trip, saying, "Pelosi's high-profile visit to Syria, where many Middle Eastern terrorist groups have their headquarters, and a smiling appearance with President Bashar Assad drew sharp criticism not only from the administration -- Vice President Cheney called it bad behavior -- but also from editorial pages." Angle continued: "The Washington Post said 'Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish.' And USA Today said 'Pelosi had crossed a line by visiting Syria. She violated a long-held understanding that the United States should speak with one official voice abroad.' "

By contrast, on the May 3 edition of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News Tel Aviv bureau chief Martin Fletcher noted that "[b]y meeting with the Syrian foreign minister in Egypt today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice overturned two years of administration policy, half an hour of what she called businesslike talks after two years of hostile silence," and added that this is "[q]uite a change from only a month ago when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earned the president's wrath for doing the same thing in Damascus."

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