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Nelson trip includes Syria visit

Sen. Bill Nelson plans to leave today for a multicountry trip to the Middle East. Included will be a stop in Syria, where he is expected to meet with President Basher Assad.

The trip comes after a report released this week on Iraq suggested that the United States needs to reach out to Syria and Iran while building regional support for a plan to quell sectarian violence in Iraq and strengthen its fragile government.

The trip "was set before we knew what this Iraq study commission was going to say, but I felt the same thing, that it's not just Iraq, it's the whole region," Nelson said.

Nelson, the Florida Democrat who beat Rep. Katherine Harris last month to win re-election, is also planning stops in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and Israel.

"In previous discussions with the CIA, they suggested that it's been quite a while since there's been a congressional delegation to go to Saudi Arabia, and they feel like they are very important in the regional context, particularly with their influence with the Sunnis in Iraq," Nelson said.

"That's one of the things, convincing the Sunni minority that they've got to work with the Shiites in order to settle down sectarian violence."

Nelson is a member of the Armed Forces and Foreign Relations committees. He has made two previous trips to Syria.