Powell says U.S. will examine sanctions against Syria
By Daniel Sobelman and Nathan Guttman
Haaretz - 14 April
The United States will examine possible diplomatic or economic measures against Syria, which the United States suspects of developing chemical weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday.
"With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward," he told reporters after talks with Kuwait Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah.
"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," Powell added.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday accused Syria of carrying out tests involving chemical weapons over the past 12 to 15 months and allowing some Iraqis to flee into Syrian territory.
Further increasing U.S. pressure on Iraq's neighbor, 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," he said, but did not give any 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."
Rumsfeld made his comments during a news briefing outside the Pentagon after meeting with visiting the Kuwaiti Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Syria denies it has chemical weapons
The Syrian president met with British and Saudi envoys Monday as his government denied charges by U.S. officials that Syria has weapons of mass destruction and is sheltering Iraqi leaders.
Syrian officials denied having chemical weapons, saying the United States has yet to prove similar charges against Iraq. They also accused Israel of spreading misinformation about Syria.
"Israel is the only state in the region that has nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," said Syria's deputy UN ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad. "We did not give any facilities for Iraqis running away, and this is our position."
Syria's deputy ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, said the administration's flurry of charges was a "campaign of misinformation and disinformation" meant to divert attention from the "human catastrophes" taking place in Iraq.
Syrian President Bashar Assad met Monday with British Junior Foreign Minister Mike O'Brien, who came to Damascus as part of a tour that would also take him to Iraq.
A British Embassy official said O'Brien's visit was "part of ongoing dialogue between Syria and Britain," adding that Britain was interested in conducting consultations on post-Saddam Iraq with all countries neighboring Iraq.
Assad also met Monday with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud. Syria's official news agency said they discussed "the situation in Iraq and efforts being exerted by neighboring countries to restore security and stability and to preserve the unity and integrity of the Iraqi territories."
EU urges Washington to 'cool down'
Earlier Monday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Washington to tone down its harsh statements about Syria, saying it was time to "cool down" the tense situation in the Middle East.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday that Syria 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," Straw told reporters at a brief press conference at the British Embassy.
"What we believe is that there is an important agenda for discussion with the Syrian government," Straw said of whether Syria was harboring former Iraqi leadership and has weapons of mass destruction.
Shalom: Syria undermining peace, encouraging terror groups
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, speaking on Monday after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, accused Syria 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.
Shalom is the first senior Israeli official to visit Ankara since Gul's Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power after November elections.
Shalom said Syria had asserted that Israel was playing an active role in the Iraq war in order to justify harboring senior Iraqi government officials wanted by the United States.
"Israel has no part in the war with Iraq, everyone knows it. It's propaganda that they want maybe to give to their own people or to the Arab world to explain why they let those Iraqi officials escape to their country and to shelter there."
Mofaz: Syria must lift Hezbollah threat
Syria must lift the threat of Hezbollah attacks against Israel and expel the leaders of terrorist organizations from Damascus, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted as saying Monday, amid fast-rising tensions between Syria and the United States.
"We must monitor what it happening there. The Americans have taken out a 'yellow card' on them, and were right to do so," he said in remarks broadcast on Army Radio, referring to a soccer referee's warning card for players who have broken the rules of the game, and, if infractions continue, may be expelled.
Overnight Monday, Hezbollah once again fired artillery shells into Israeli territory. They landed in Kiryat Shmona and did not cause injuries, Army Radio reported Monday.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara said Sunday that if the United States decides to attack Syria, Israel will also be harmed as a result. Shara also rejected claims that Syria was providing shelter to senior Iraqi leaders, and said that the Americans "know well that these accusations have no basis."
Shara's comments came after U.S. President George W. Bush Sunday repeated warnings to Syria that it must cooperate with Washington and not harbor Iraqi leaders who may flee across their common border.
Bush told reporters Sunday that "Syria just needs to cooperate with the United States and our coalition partners, not harbor any (Iraqi) Baathists, any military officials, any people who need to be held to account."
Mofaz said in remarks broadcast on Army Radio that Syria "has taken in senior Iraqi figures to its territory, it has also allowed terrorism to be launched in the direction of the Americans in Iraq."
The radio reported Monday that Hezbollah fighters had recently moved additional artillery pieces near the Lebanon-Israel border, from which they have been directing anti-aircraft fire at border towns and villages. Shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells fell overnight in Kiryat Shmona, it said.
Former prime minister and foreign minister Shimon Peres, currently in the United States, said Washington would no longer tolerate "two faced policies" regarding terrorism. "A nation can either fight terror or aid terror. They will not allow a nation to pretend it is fighting terror, while it actually aids it."
Peres said that some 10 headquarters of terrorist organizations are in Damascus. He added that Washington's approach to Syria was likely to be "uncompromising," but "I don't think that the next step will be use of military force. I think that what America will try to do is to truly forge a coalition to tell Syria to decide where it's really headed."
After its Iraq invasion, "the American people have a power of their own even without immediate use of military force. This is the change in the situation," Peres said. "I expect that many nations will join this effort."
Asked whether Syria could face military action if it does not turn over Iraqi leaders, Bush said: "They just need to cooperate."
Syria has been on the U.S. list of countries supporting terrorism for many years and some hawks in Washington say that after Iraq, the United States should set its sights on "regime change" in Syria and Iran.
In his remarks, Bush also contended that Syria, Iraq's northwestern neighbor, has chemical weapons, a charge made in recent CIA reports and one denied by Syria.
"We believe there are chemical weapons in Syria," the president said. He warned Syria, Iran and North Korea that Iraq's example shows "we're serious about stopping weapons of mass destruction."
Bush said he might contact Syrian leaders to make clear his warning. Syria's deputy ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, denied that his country was harboring escaped Iraqis. He said it was the responsibility of U.S. troops to monitor Iraq's border with Syria.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld charged that Syrian fighters had been killed or captured by U.S. forces in Iraq, but declined to say what Washington might do if Saddam Hussein were found in Syria.
"The (Syrian) government is making a lot of bad mistakes, a lot of bad judgments in my view," Rumsfeld said in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. The secretary has in recent days repeatedly charged that Damascus has not only voiced support for Saddam's fallen government, but has been helping senior Iraqi leaders enter Syria to stay or move on to other countries