GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s foreign policy adviser sharply rebuked a key Middle East adviser of their rival’s campaign for engaging in “covert” diplomatic relations with Syria on Wednesday.
The harsh attack was made in reaction to a story published by the New York Sun in which Barack Obama’s Middle East adviser Daniel Kurtzer admitted discussing presidential politics with high-level Syrian officials at a conference underwritten Syrian business interests and a Canadian oil company.
Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, said he told Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, “to move ahead in the Israel-Syria negotiations as much as possible so that whoever is the next president would not start from too far down the track" but insisted the trip was not connected to his campaign work. "I did not say anything about Obama or McCain. I said whoever is the next president is not going to want to inherit a process that isn't going anywhere," Kurtzer told the Sun.
The previously undisclosed meeting took place at lawyer’s conference organized by the British Syrian Society in Damascus in early July. Kurtzer was invited because he is on the board member of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative. Al-Moallem’s father-in-law is a co-founder of the British Syrian Society and the event was paid for by Syrian corporations and the Canadian oil company, Petro-Canada.
The McCain camp said these actions amounted to “covert” diplomacy operations by the Obama campaign. “There’s no disclosure with this,” McCain Senior Foreign Policy Adviser Randy Scheunemann said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon.
“These aren’t exactly impartial entities to organize this conference,” Scheunemann said. “Let’s remember the nature of the country this conference was in. Syria has not cooperated with the International Atomic Energy agency in providing flight access, they are sponsors of some of the worst terrorist organizations in the world, they stand credibly charged for being behind the assassination of a number of Lebanese officials, including former Prime Minister Hariri.”
Former New York City Mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani was also on the call. He likened Kurtzer’s meeting to Obama’s promise to meet with hostile, foreign leaders without “precondition,” a position Obama’s previous Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton criticized Obama for holding.
“Maybe this is a playing out of his negotiating with dictators without precondition,” Giuliani said.
In the Sun article, Kurtzer is quoted saying he hoped he wasn’t being “used” by the Syrians. “None of us thought we were being used,” Kurtzer said on behalf of those attending the conference. “But we will see over time.”