The United States has demanded that the regime of President Bashar Assad surrender Iraqi weapons of mass
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.
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, Middle East Newsline reported.
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.
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
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
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."