Gabbard says she does not regret meeting with Bashar al-Assad

'The fact is that he is the President of Syria'

By CNN'S JULIA MANCHESTER CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

(CNN) - Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Sunday stood by her decision to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017, saying that American leaders must meet with foreign leaders "if we are serious about the pursuit of peace and securing our country."

Gabbard, who announced earlier this month that she was running for president in 2020, discussed the controversial meeting with Assad during a trip to Syria in January 2017 with CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday. The Syrian leader is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians.

"Looking back on that meeting, do you have any regrets?" Tapper asked.

"No, I think that it is, it continues to be very important for any leader in this country to be willing to meet with others, whether they be friends or adversaries or potential adversaries if we are serious about the pursuit of peace and securing our country," Gabbard, who represents Hawaii, replied.

"You know, Jake, you -- you often acknowledge and bring to the forefront the cost of war and our troops and who pays the price," she continued. "And, as a veteran, you know I have been serving in the Army National Guard now for 15 years and continue to serve, served on two Middle East deployments. I have seen this cost of war firsthand, which is why I fight so hard for peace. And that's the reality of the situation that we're facing here."

During an interview with Tapper in 2017 on "The Lead," soon after Gabbard's meeting with Assad, she also declined to express any regrets over the meeting.

"Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the President of Syria," she said. "In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur there has to be a conversation with him."

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