Powell Says U.S. to Examine "Diplomatic, Economic" Measures Against Syria
Powell told reporters after a meeting with the Kuwaiti Minister of 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.”
“With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward,” Powell said when asked if the U.S. was considering any measures against Syria in light of recent U.S. allegations against the country.
“We are in touch with Syrian authorities. We have a very effective ambassador there, Ambassador Kattouf, who will stay in touch with them and make them aware of our concerns. And we’ll see how things unfold as we move forward,” Powell added.
Powell’s remarks come on the heels of a warning from President Bush on Sunday that the government in Damascus should work with U.S. and British officials and not obstruct coalition efforts by taking in fleeing Iraqi leaders.
“The Syrian government needs to cooperate with the United States and our coalition partners and not harbor any Ba’athists, any military officials, any people who need to be held to account for their tenure,” Mr. Bush said.
When asked if the U.S. would intervene militarily if Syria did not hand over Iraqi leaders, the president said, “They just need to cooperate.”
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, currently in the Middle East to participate in talks on Iraq’s reconstruction, attempted to downplay any perceived threat of military action against Syria Monday.
“We have made it clear that there are no plans for Syria to be next on the list,” Straw told reporters in Bahrain. “But there are questions that the Syrians need to answer.”
Asked whether he believed that Syria had weapons of mass destruction, Straw replied, “I’m not sure, and that’s why we need to talk to them about it.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters as he welcomed the Kuwaiti foreign affairs minister to the Pentagon, had a more solid view on Syria’s weapons arsenal saying Monday, “we have seen the chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months.”
“[W]e 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 said.
“And we have intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay, in some cases to transit,” he added.
Rumsfeld warned Syria last month to stop sending military equipment, specifically night-vision goggles, to aid Iraqi forces. “We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments,” he said.
Asked on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday whether such equipment was found in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, “Oh, yes, we found night goggles in Iraq.”
Syrian officials have flatly denied the U.S. allegations, including the charge that Syria has chemical weapons.
“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,” Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Buthaina Shaaban told Reuters.
Syria’s deputy U.S. ambassador, Imad Moustapha, said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that the U.S. accusations are a “campaign of misinformation and disinformation” meant to divert attention from the “human catastrophes” taking place in the Iraq war.
Asked if he thought there was potential for war between Syria and the United States, Moustapha said “No, I do not believe this…we believe that the American values — and we believe in American fairness.”
“We don’t think …that extremist people will further push the agenda. It does not serve the long-term programs of the United States to be seen as backing one country after another,” he added.
The Syrian president met with envoys from Britain and Saudi Arabia Monday to discuss the situation in Iraq and regional efforts to maintain the stability and the integrity of the Iraqi territories, according to the official Syrian news agency.