WASHINGTON ó A foreign policy adviser to Senator Obama is scheduled to arrive in Syria today as the leader of a RAND Corp. delegation.
Zbigniew Brzezinski will travel to Damascus for meetings as part of a trip Syria's official Cham News agency described as an "important sign that the end of official dialogue between Washington and Damascus has not prevented dialogue with important American intellectuals and politicians."
An assistant to Mr. Brzezinski, Trudy Werner, told The New York Sun yesterday: "He is leading a delegation for RAND and they will be in Damascus. It is a high-level delegation and they are meeting with some high-level people in the region. There is no shortage of issues in the Middle East to discuss as I'm sure you know."
Mr. Brzezinski's visit to Syria, a country President Bush has accused of arming terrorists and ordering political assassinations in Lebanon, is in many ways in keeping with a theme of the Obama campaign. The Illinois senator in August said during a Democratic debate that he would be willing to meet with foreign adversaries, earning a rebuke from Senator Clinton, a Democrat of New York, who said such an approach would be "naÔve."
On August 24, Mr. Brzezinski, a one-time national security adviser to President Carter, announced in an interview on Bloomberg's satellite news channel that he was endorsing Mr. Obama, and he has been an adviser to the campaign since.
A spokesman for the senator's presidential campaign, Tommy Vietor, said the campaign did not know Mr. Brzezinski was leading the delegation. "The first we heard of this trip was from you," he said. He added: "Brzezinski is not a day-to-day adviser for the campaign, he is someone whose guidance Senator Obama seeks on Iraq."
A supporter of Mrs. Clinton, Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said he found it hard to believe that one of the Illinois senator's main advisers would not know that his visit to Syria would appear to have the tacit consent of the Obama campaign.
"People are going to say if you are advising Obama, you are representing Obama," Mr. Engel said. "At this time when we are in the middle of an election, I can't believe that for him to go to Syria at this moment would not appear he was going with at least some tacit approval of the candidate he is advising. I would think he would realize that," Mr. Engel said.
Mr. Bush has had a bifurcated policy toward Syria in the past six months. On the one hand, his administration openly accuses the regime of rogue behavior, and he has not yet sent a full-ranked ambassador to man the American embassy in Syria.
At the same time, the secretary of state in November invited the Syrians to participate in a regional peace initiative with Israel at a conference in Annapolis, Md.
A spokesman for the State Department, David Foley, yesterday offered no comment on Mr. Brzezinski's scheduled travel to Damascus. "In light of the ongoing Syrian interference in the presidential election process in Lebanon, the continued flow of foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria, the continued support for Palestinian terrorist groups and Hezbollah, we call on Damascus to cease its destructive tactics."
A source familiar with Mr. Brzezinski's travel to Damascus yesterday said the visit was not coordinated with America's embassy there, but that embassy officials would be available for discussions if requested.
A press officer for the RAND Corp., Lisa Sodders, said the trip was organized by the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. She offered scant details on the trip, which she said was not meant to be covered by the press. She said the delegation would be "meeting with several different people, community leaders and government officials throughout the Middle East."
Over the weekend, Mr. Brzezinski met with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. Syrian press accounts said the delegation would visit Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad; vice president, Farouq al-Sharaa, and foreign minister, Walid Mouallem. Neither Ms. Sodders or Ms. Werner would confirm Mr. Brzezinski's meeting partners in Damascus.
Mr. Engel yesterday said he was not a particular admirer of Mr. Brzezinski's, though he praised his intelligence. He said the former Carter administration official addressed Democratic lawmakers last month at a retreat at Williamsburg, Va., on America's policy toward Iran. "I remember thinking, 'Why are we listening to him?' He was the national security adviser for Jimmy Carter 30 years ago. He proceeded to talk to us about Iran, and I said, 'Let me see, didn't the ayatollahs come to power, didn't we have this problem when you were in the White House?'"