Washington, Jan 21 (PTI) Democratic presidential aspirant Tulsi Gabbard has defended her controversial 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, 37, the first Hindu elected to US Congress and a four-time Democratic lawmaker, earlier this month announced she will run for President in 2020.

Gabbard had met Assad during a trip to Syria in January 2017. The Syrian leader is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians.

“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, said in an interview to CNN when asked if she regrets the meeting.

“…you often acknowledge and bring to the forefront the cost of war and our troops and who pays the price,” she continued.

“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.”

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.