WASHINGTON -- Democratic congressional leaders expressed strong reservations yesterday about President Bush's discussion of the Persian Gulf crisis with Syrian President Hafez el Assad, whose nation remains on the State Department's list of countries that support terrorism.
While Republicans guardedly defended the president's meeting with Mr. Assad in Geneva, Democratic leaders of the House and Senate urged Mr. Bush to avoid forming a new alliance with Syria just because it opposes Iraq.
The strongest criticism came from Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, who called the meeting "ill-advised."
Noting that Syria has a "worse than dismal record on human rights" as well as a history of "condoning terrorism," Mr. Mitchell said he had "grave reservations" about the meeting, which ended a decade-long U.S. policy of shunning high-level contacts with the Syrian regime.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., was less critical, saying Mr. Bush's decision was based on pragmatic considerations.