Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, says she has invited Syrian leader Bashar Assad to come to the United States to speak even though his country is designated by the U.S. as a rogue nation and sponsor of terrorism.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas

Jackson Lee said Assad so impressed her during her recent terrorism fact-finding mission to Europe and the Middle East she thought he should come to the U.S., the Houston Chronicle reported.

“I’m sure someone will write a headline, ‘Congresswoman invites a terrorist,'” Jackson Lee said. “But that’s not what I’m trying to do.”

Assad, she argued, showed his willingness to negotiate by meeting with the delegation despite the signing Friday by President Bush of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, which could impose sanctions on Damascus.

“He’s a 39-year-old president who even gave us a picture of him and his children,” Jackson Lee told the Houston paper. “Let’s see what he can do. He’s not his father.”

The congresswoman was referring to Hafez Assad, regarded as a pragmatic and cruel tyrant who ruled Syria for 30 years before his death in 2000. The elder Assad banned all political parties except his own, the Baath, which also was the party of Saddam Hussein.

Lee, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, said the capture of Saddam does nothing to change her position, the Chronicle reported.

“I believe we should have had a congressional vote before declaring war, and we should have allowed U.N. inspectors time to finish their work,” Jackson Lee said during a news conference at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport. “As to [weapons of mass destruction], the fact they have not been found I believe shows I was right.”

Jackson Lee was traveling with nine other members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. They met with officials in Spain, Italy, Syria and Israel.

Praising troops from Fort Hood, Texas, for capturing Saddam, the congresswoman said the U.S. now has an opportunity to form a broader international coalition to bring about peace in Iraq, the Chronicle reported. She also called for international participation in Saddam’s trial.

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