And it begins again....
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|Mon, 04-14-2003 - 4:26pm|
MSNBC News Services
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday accused Syria of testing chemical weapons and allowing Iraqi officials to flee into Syrian territory. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States would explore imposing sanctions on Syria. European leaders, meanwhile, urged Washington to tone down its rhetoric and stressed the need for dialogue with Damascus.
RUMSFELD SAID the United States has "intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay and some cases to transit." Rumsfeld did not identify the Iraqis to which he was referring, nor did he say where they traveled after leaving Syria.
"I would say that we have seen chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months," Rumsfeld said, without giving details. "We have intelligence that shows that Syria has allowed Syrians and others to come across the border into Iraq, people armed and people carrying leaflets indicating that they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition."
Syria has long been on a U.S. list of states suspected of supporting terrorism.
Rumsfeld made his comments during a news briefing outside the Pentagon after meeting with visiting Kuwaiti Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah.
Powell said in Washington that the Bush administration would "examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature."
"In light of this new environment, they (Syria) should review their actions and their behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity," he said.
European leaders sought to defuse the tension.
"The region is going through a very difficult process, and I think it would be better to make constructive statements to see if we can cool down the situation," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, speaking before an EU foreign ministers meeting to discuss how the organization could help postwar Iraq.
On Sunday, President Bush warned Syria not to harbor fleeing Iraqi leaders and asked for patience as the United States and its coalition allies restore order in Iraq.
"The Syrian government needs to cooperate with the United States and our coalition partners and not harbor any Baathists, any military officials, any people who need to be held to account for their tenure," Bush told reporters on Sunday.
Bush also contended that Syria has chemical weapons, a charge made in recent CIA reports and one that Syria has denied.
Syria denied the U.S. charges again on Monday and said it had never cooperated with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's administration.
"We say to him (President Bush) that Syria has no chemical weapons and that the only chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the region are in Israel, which is threatening its neighbors and occupying their land," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Buthaina Shaaban told Reuters.
' QUESTIONS ... HAVE BEEN RAISED'
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain and the United States had no intention of invading Syria after Iraq, but Damascus had "important questions" to answer.
"As far as 'Syria on the list,' we made clear that it is not," Straw told reporters in Bahrain at the start of a tour of Arab states in the Persian Gulf. "There is no 'next list.'"
"What is important is for Syria fully to cooperate over these questions that have been raised about the fact that some fugitives from Iraq may well have fled into Syria and other matters including whether they have in fact been developing any kind of chemical or biological program," he told BBC radio.
Also on Monday, British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. He said afterward he had briefed Assad on U.S.-British plans for postwar Iraq that will lead to a new constitution and elections.
Syria's deputy ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, denied the U.S. charges on Sunday and said it was the responsibility of U.S. troops to monitor Iraq's border with Syria. The country has also rejected specific U.S. charges about sending military equipment to Iraq but remained silent on others.
'THE REGION IS WORN OUT'
Turkey also urged the United States to tone down its comments and said Monday that Syria should not become a target of U.S.-led forces.
"This war should end in Iraq," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said at a joint news conference with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. "In our opinion, no one should allow new conflicts or new tensions in the region. No one should permit new developments that would further disturb the region."
"Now Iraq, then Syria, then Iran," Gul said. "The region is worn out enough."
But Israel moved quickly to take advantage of the U.S. pressure on its hostile neighbor and weighed in with a list of demands of its own, focusing on Syria's alleged support for guerrilla groups that have long been a thorn in Israel's flesh.
Shalom accused Damascus of undermining peace in the Middle East amid fears the U.S.-led war in the region could now spread to Iraq's neighbors.
"Syria is letting terrorist organizations operate in the country.... Unfortunately, they are not doing anything to prevent it. More than that, they are encouraging terrorist organizations to act within Syria all the time," Shalom told reporters.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
They say that there's no 'list', but I don't believe them.
Edited 4/14/2003 4:27:30 PM ET by cl-nwtreehugger