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Syria Pledges Cooperation, U.S. Says No Plans for War

The statement comes after Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that the United States had no plans to attack Syria.

The Bush administration has recently accused Syria of developing weapons of mass destruction and harboring Iraqi fugitives, charges the Syrian government denies.

“President Bush said that we would like Syria to cooperate; Syria will always cooperate in things that serve the Iraqi people’s interests,” said Buthaina Shaaban, spokesman for Syria’s foreign ministry.

Shaaban downplayed recent reports of tension between Syria and the United States.

“I think the diplomatic channels are much more quieter and much more constructive than what the media presents,” she said.

Powell had threatened diplomatic and economic sanctions if Syria did not cooperate with the United States, but said there were no plans for any military action in the region.

“There is no list, there is no war plan right now to go attack someone else either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values,” Powell told reporters Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. forces had shut down an oil pipeline running between Iraq and Syria.

“For more than two years, Syria imported 150,000 to 180,000 barrels of oil a day from Iraq, in defiance of U.N. efforts to regulate Iraqi exports and ensure that Baghdad spent its oil revenue only on food and other humanitarian needs,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Syrian officials dismissed the possible impact of the pipeline shutdown.

“We lived without the Iraqi pipeline for 20 years. We can live without it for 20 years. It’s not a problem,” Shaaban said.

U.S. officials had delivered a barrage of warnings and accusations against Syria on Sunday and Monday in remarks by President Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The administration said it has intelligence that proves Syria has tested chemical weapons, provided military equipment to Iraq, and harbored terrorists and members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, including the head of Iraq’s intelligence agency.

“Iraqis can go to Iraq but cannot come to Syria. This is the decision of the Syrian government,” Shaaban said. “When we say the borders are closed, it means they are closed and when we say we do not allow any symbol of Iraqi regime to come here, it means that we did not allow any.”

Other Syrian officials have steadfastly denied U.S. accusations and have protested the Bush administration’s warnings.

“All these allegations are untrue but unfortunately they don’t believe us,” Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Rostom al-Zoubi told the Reuters news service. “We were not supporting the Iraqi regime and we did not allow any person or anybody from the Iraqi leadership or anyone from the Iraqi family to come to our country.”

Syrian officials claim that the U.S. statements are a part of Israeli-inspired propaganda designed to hurt relations between Syria and the United States. The government released a statement Tuesday saying the United States seeks to weaken Syria and to aid Israel.

“The council of ministers condemns the threatening language and the baseless accusations leveled by certain American officials against Syria with the aim of striking a blow at its firm position, influence its decisions and its commitment to international legitimacy,” the official news agency SANA reported Tuesday. “The council rejects these accusations and inaccurate allegations which respond to the demands of Israel and serve its objectives and expansionist aims.”

On Wednesday, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami joined the list of Arab nations saying they oppose U.S. warnings against Syria.

“Our advice to the Americans is to abandon such threats,” Khatami told reporters after a cabinet meeting. “We reject U.S. threats and allegations about ourselves, and I think the same goes with Syria.”

Members of the Arab League, including U.S. allies like Egypt and Qatar, also weighed in on behalf of Syria Tuesday.

“I believe this is like throwing oil on a fire or salt in a wound, as you say, and it makes the situation even more tense and precarious,” said Hisham Youssef, spokesman for the Arab League. “Israel being involved is going to inflame the whole region. We have suffered enough.”

Shaaban said Syria will not close local offices of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have been labeled terrorist organizations by the United States. She said the groups’ operations in Damascus were only “media offices and they have the right for freedom of self-expression.”

Shaaban called on the United States to support a U.N. resolution banning all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, including Israel’s alleged stockpile of nuclear warheads. Powell has said that kind of agreement would be beneficial to region but it would only work if inspectors were given unfettered access to all countries.