On the same day his official spokesman termed Syria a 'rogue nation'...the Bush Admin may be having second thoughts...especially after a former Republican Secretary of State said that if Bush were to rush to war with Syria and Iran he himself would be in favor of impeachment.
Bush vetoes Syria war plan
Julian Borger in Washington, Michael White, Ewen MacAskill in Kuwait City and Nicholas Watt
Tuesday April 15, 2003
The White House has privately ruled out suggestions that the US should go to war against Syria following its military success in Iraq, and has blocked preliminary planning for such a campaign in the Pentagon, the Guardian learned yesterday.
In the past few weeks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered contingency plans for a war on Syria to be reviewed following the fall of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, his undersecretary for policy, Doug Feith, and William Luti, the head of the Pentagon's office of special plans, were asked to put together a briefing paper on the case for war against Syria, outlining its role in supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein, its links with Middle East terrorist groups and its allegedly advanced chemical weapons programme. Mr Feith and Mr Luti were both instrumental in persuading the White House to go to war in Iraq.
Mr Feith and other conservatives now playing important roles in the Bush administration, advised the Israeli government in 1996 that it could "shape its strategic environment... by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria".
However, President George Bush, who faces re-election next year with two perilous nation-building projects, in Afghanistan and Iraq, on his hands, is said to have cut off discussion among his advisers about the possibility of taking the "war on terror" to Syria.
"The talk about Syria didn't go anywhere. Basically, the White House shut down the discussion," an intelligence source in Washington told the Guardian.
Faced with rising apprehension over the prospect of a new conflict, Tony Blair also offered categorical assurances to anxious MPs yesterday that Britain and the US had "no plans whatsoever" to invade Iraq's neighbour.
Dismissing fears of an Anglo-American invasion as another "conspiracy theory", the prime minister said that Mr Bush had never mentioned an attack on Syria during their regular talks.
"I have the advantage of talking to the American president on a regular basis and I can assure you there are no plans to invade Syria," he said. "Neither has anyone on the other side of the water, as far as I am aware, said there are plans."
The Bush administration is nevertheless determined to use its military ascendancy in the region to exert diplomatic and economic pressure on Damascus and resolve what Washington sees as longstanding problems, including the threat to Israel posed by Damascus-backed Islamic extremists, Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Syria's chemical weapons.
Mr Rumsfeld repeated accusations yesterday that Syria had tested chemical weapons in the last 12 to 15 months. However, Syria is not a signatory to the chemical weapons convention and would not be breaking international law if it did possess,nor is it suspected of selling chemical weapons to others.
One US administration official conceded: "They've not taken any actions that we can see so far that would justify military action."
Mr Blair made clear to Syria yesterday that it must not accept high-level political fugitives or weapons of mass destruction from Iraq.
"It is important Syria does not harbour people from Saddam's regime or allow any transfer of material from Iraq to Syria. I have spoken to President Assad and he has assured me that is not happening and I have said it is important that assurance is valid," Mr Blair told MPs.
A diplomat in Washington with close ties to the administration agreed there was no sign of military action on the horizon.
"There's no question of this at the White House," the diplomat said, pointing out that the Syrian army would be a far more potent adversary than Iraq's bedraggled forces. "Anyone who lives in the real world would never see this as more than noise."
Instead, the administration expects that the loss of income from smuggling arms and oil to and from Iraq will make Damascus vulnerable to economic pressure. Congress is examin-ing the Syrian accountability act, which would impose tough sanctions on Damascus.
British officials confirm they share US alarm about Syria's recent conduct and its sponsorship role in Palestinian terrorism. But Mr Blair has cultivated Bashar al-Assad, its British-educated president, and adopts a more conciliatory tone towards Damascus.
"It's a bit of a good cop, bad cop routine," one Whitehall official said of the tougher line coming from the US.
The prime minister's upbeat report to MPs on what, for the first time, he called victory was marred by sceptical challenges from both sides based on reports from Washington that Bush hawks want to move on the Ba'athist regime next door. Evidently exasperated, Mr Blair denounced "conspiracy theories" and insisted that he could not be clearer about his determination to tackle Syria by diplomacy.
His remarks came hours after the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, warned Mr Assad that he would have to face up to "the new reality" of the post-Saddam world. Speaking in Kuwait on the second leg of a four-country tour of the Gulf, Mr Straw said: "There are a number of questions it is very important that Syria should answer and in a cooperative way."
His tough remarks were echoed by the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, who warned that Britain had had concerns for some time about Syria's desire to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Hoon referred to a government paper, presented to parliament in February last year, which raised questions about Syria's weapons programme. The document said that Syria was one of five countries attempting to "obtain inventories of longer-range ballistic missiles". The other countries included North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya.
The Syrian ambassador to London angrily rejected suggestions that Damascus had any weapons of mass destruction or was harbouring members of Saddam's regime. Mouafak Nassar told Radio 4's The World at One: "I will say I am wondering why they are targeting one Arab country after the other. They are ignoring totally the country that has mass destruction weapons - Israel."
Britain underlined its commitment to diplomacy when the junior Foreign Office minister, Mike O'Brien, met Mr Assad in Damascus yesterday.