Praise Mr. Assad
Washington (JTA) — In an un-
usual twist of congressional ac-
tivity on the Middle East, three
well-known pro-Israel members
of Congress have sent letters to
Syrian President Hafez Assad
praising him for his efforts in
combatting drug trafficking and
for allowing Syrian Jews to em-
U.S. Reps. Benjamin Gilman,
R-N.Y., Charles Schumer, D-
N.Y., and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y,
known as hawks when it comes
to Syrian and narcotics issues,
hoped that their letters would
prompt the Syrians to reveal in-
formation on the whereabouts of
Israeli soldiers missing in action
and lead to movement on the Is-
rael-Syria peace track, according
to sources on Capitol Hill.
The letters were sent with a
delegation that traveled to Dam-
ascus according to the sources.
At these meetings, participants
reportedly pressed Syrian offi-
cials on the whereabouts of Is-
raeli MIAS, including Ron Arad,
an Israeli air force pilot whose
plane was shot down over
Lebanon in 1986.
Much to the dismay of the con-
gressmen, who had apparently
been assured the letters would
remain private, Syrian newspa-
pers reported on the correspon-
dence and Mr. Assad has been
touting the letters in his contin-
uing effort to get Syria off the
State Department lists of drug
traffickers and state-sponsors of
Getting off the two lists has
been a priority for Mr. Assad,
whose country is disqualified
from certain economic benefits
because of the listing.
In a brief letter to Mr. Assad
dated July 22, Mr. Schumer
wrote, "I would like to take this
opportunity to acknowledge your
leadership in providing freedom
of travel to members of the Syr-
ian Jewish community. Members
of Congress recognize your efforts
and positive consideration of this
hi the letter, obtained by the
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Mr.
Schumer wrote, "I am pleased
that the vast majority of Jews
that have requested permission
to travel freely have been per-
mitted to do so."
In April 1992, Syria lifted trav-
el restrictions on the estimated
4,500 Jews. An estimated 4,000
have since left the country, emi-
grating mostly to the United
Mr. Schumer, one of Syria's
most outspoken critics on Capi-
tol Hill, concluded his letter by
saying, "I look forward to work-
ing with you in the future on is-
sues of vital congressional con-
Explaining his unusual corre-
spondence with the Syrian pres-
ident, Mr. Schumer said through
an aide, 'When we asked Assad
to do something, he did it, and
this letter was simply a recogni-
tion of what he has done."
Mr. Gilman, the ranking mi-
nority member of the House For-
eign Affairs Committee, and Mr.
Rangel wrote to Mr. Assad re-
garding his improved record of
combatting drug smuggling in
the Middle East.
The letter complemented Mr.
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Touting the letters.
Assad for "progress in your gov-
ernment's efforts to combat
drugs, both with assistance in
large-scale opium eradication in
the Bekaa Valley and enactment
of some tough anti-narcotics do-
The Bekaa Valley, in eastern
Lebanon, is one of the primary
opium and cocaine centers in the
region. The area remains under
Mr. Rangel and Mr. Gilman
were founders and co-chairman
of the now-defunct U.S. House of
Representatives Select Commit-
tee on Narcotics.
Mr. Schumer's office reacted
with disgust when the letters
were published this week in the
Times, an English-language
newspaper based in Damascus.
"Someone obviously violated
our trust," an aide to one of the
The letters were sent "as a
diplomatic thing for only Assad
to see," the aide said.
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