Syria is 'not next coalition target' - Straw
Agencies - 14 April 2003:
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today that Syria, which has been accused by the United States of harbouring Iraqi leaders and having chemical weapons, was not the next coalition target after the war on Iraq.
"We have made it clear that there are no plans for Syria to be next on the list ... but there are questions that the Syrians need to answer," Mr Straw told reporters at the British Embassy In Bahrain.
He said America and Britain would be looking for Syrian cooperation regarding "some fugitives from Iraq (who) may well have fled to Syria, and other matters, including whether they have in fact been developing any kind of illegal or illegitimate chemical or biological programs."
Asked whether he believed the Syrians had weapons of mass destruction, Straw replied: "I'm not sure, and that's why we need to talk to them about it."
"There are questions that need to be answered which can best be answered by effective cooperation by the Syrian government and by dialogue," he told the BBC.
Yesterday, President George Bush warned Syria not to harbour Iraqi leaders and said that Damascus has chemical weapons, but was careful not to threaten military action."They just need to cooperate," he said.
Syria's ambassador to London, Mouafak Nassar, said today that his country has not got weapons of mass destruction and will not harbour members of the Iraqi regime, the country's .
"We don't have any mass destructions and I will say I am wondering why they are targeting one Arab country after the other," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One. "They are ignoring totally the country that has mass destruction weapons... Israel."
People were trying to "implicate Syria" with "totally untrue" claims, Mr Nassar went on.
"We are not in a position to give any shelter to any Iraqi official and we will not do that," he said.
"It is a long border, it is 600 kilometres in length, and if you check our border we do not have any army there. We only have a few police stations but we will definitely do our best."
Tony Blair spoke to Syrian President Bashar al–Assad over the weekend and Mr Straw said he spoke to his Syrian counterpart Farouk al–Sharaa on Friday. Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien is in Syria to to follow up on those discussions.
Straw arrived in Bahrain Sunday on the first–leg of a Gulf tour to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq. Mr Straw left Bahrain for Kuwait. He will visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia before heading to Greece for a summit on Wednesday on enlarging the European Union.