U.S. demands Syria give up Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
Rumsfeld, Rice urge quick action
The United States has demanded that the regime of President Bashar Assad surrender Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officials said the Bush administration has been examining a range of sanctions to pressure Damascus to surrender Iraqi WMD assets and scientists. They said the flight of Iraqi biological and nuclear components and scientists from Iraq could turn Syria into the next WMD threat to the United States and its allies in the Middle East and southern Europe.
Officials said Bush has been urged by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to move quickly against Damascus.
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U.S. officials said Rumsfeld has advocated military strikes along the Iraqi-Syrian border to stop the flow of Arab suicide volunteers in Iraq as well as prevent the flow of Iraqi regime leaders and scientists toward Damascus. Rumsfeld, who ordered a Pentagon review of options against the Assad regime, was said to have argued that Syria's alliance with Saddam threatens to undermine the coalition victory in Iraq as well as U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Officials said the extent of the Iraqi-Syrian WMD connection was disclosed by Jaffar Jaffar, regarded as the father of Iraq's nuclear program. Last week, Jaffar fled to Syria and then made his way to an unidentified Arab country, where he surrendered to U.S. authorities. Several other Iraqi weapons scientists, including the heads of Saddam's biological weapons program, were also said to have been harbored by Syria.
"We will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday. "We are in touch with Syrian authorities and will make them aware of our concerns and we'll see how things unfold as we move forward."
Powell did not elaborate on what kind of sanctions the United States would impose on Damascus. The United States has maintained an embargo on military sales to Syria but allows the sale of civilian and some dual-use systems.
The administration effort has explored the prospect of international pressure on Syria to surrender its WMD assets, particularly those obtained from Iraq. Officials said the campaign would include the threat of an embargo on all military and dual-use systems by U.S. allies as well as traditional suppliers to Damascus such as China and Russia. Some officials said the administration could link the awarding of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq to cooperation with the United States to stop Syria's WMD programs.
Officials also raised the prospect that the administration would support the Syria Accountability Act, which would impose a virtual trade embargo on Syria. The legislation, opposed last year by the State Department, has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican.
Powell's suggestion of sanctions came one day after President George Bush said Syria possesses weapons of mass destruction and warned the Assad regime to cooperate with the U.S.-led war against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
On Monday, Rumsfeld said Syria had conducted a series of chemical weapons tests over the last 15 months. Later, aides said the tests sought to exploit the transfer of Iraqi expertise on the weaponization of WMD agents that would enable Syria to develop second- or third-generation CW.
"I would say that we have seen chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months," Rumsfeld said.
Officials said the Pentagon has also been alarmed by Syrian recruitment of Arab volunteers to fight for the Saddam regime. Officials said many, if not most, of the estimated 5,000 volunteers were Syrian nationals or residents. Many of these volunteers continue to kill U.S. soldiers in Baghdad despite the collapse of the Saddam regime and his military.
"We're seeing them [Syrian fighters in Iraq] in the greatest density," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy director for operations at U.S. Central Command, said. "We also know that there were attempts to enter from Syria and some recruiting occurred in Syria. While we suspect that may well have been Iraqi intelligence service doing that work, it still came from that direction. That's why we keep referring to Syria. It's just the role that Syria has been involved in in this case."
But Bush, at the urging of Powell, has overruled Rumsfeld's appeal to consider military measures against Damascus, officials said. Instead, the president has ordered a review of non-military measures against Syria.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called Syria a rogue state and suggested that President Bashar Assad is an inexperienced leader. Fleischer did not rule out an eventual military strike on Damascus.
"Gone is the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein," the White House spokesman said. "Next, hopefully, is a re-examination by Syria and, perhaps, others about how they conduct their affairs and how diplomacy is conducted and whether or not they believe they should continue to be terrorist states or not. And an early indication of Syria's actions would be whether or not they harbor these Iraqi leaders."
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Tuesday, April 15, 2003