Washington, Feb 7 (PTI) Democratic presidential aspirant and the first Hindu lawmaker in the Congress Tulsi Gabbard has said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “not the enemy” of the US and the war-torn country does not pose a “direct threat” to America.

Gabbard, 37, who recently announced her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, has previously been criticised for meeting with Assad in 2017. The Syrian leader is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians in the ongoing brutal civil war.

“Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” Gabbard, elected to the House of Representatives from Hawaii, said Wednesday on MSNBC.

When pressed over whether Assad, who has been accused of using chemical weapons on his own people over the course of a more than five year civil war, is an adversary of the US, Gabbard said “you can describe it however you want to describe it. My point is that whether it is Syria or any of these other countries, we need to look at how their interests are counter to or aligned with ours,” she said.

When asked if she thought Assad was a good person, Gabbard said, “No, I don’t,” and asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin was an adversary to the US, she responded, “Yes.” Gabbard has previously defended her 2017 meeting with Assad, saying American leaders must meet with foreign leaders “if we are serious about the pursuit of peace and securing our country.” She said last month that there is no possibility for a “viable” peace agreement in the war-torn country unless Assad is part of the conversation.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.