The United States has not determined a significant
change in the strategic programs in Iran and Syria.
U.S. officials said despite repeated warnings by the Bush administration
Iran and Syria continue to pursue missile and weapons of mass destruction
programs. The officials said both Damascus and Teheran also support
anti-U.S. activities in Iraq.
"Syria and Iran are being unhelpful," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
told a Washington audience on Friday. "Sometimes I understate for emphasis."
Rumsfeld said the administration remains concerned over the WMD programs
in Iran and Syria despite pledges by both countries that they have peaceful
intentions. The defense secretary said Iran has been pursuing a secret
nuclear program for many years while Syria has chemical weapons programs and
could be advancing to other WMD projects.
"The biological piece of it I would elevate as extremely worrisome,"
Rumsfeld said. "It is so easy to do, relatively. It doesn't require moving
big things. It can be put together in relatively small rooms. And it can be
moved across borders because of dual-use aspects of so many elements
involved with biological warfare."
At least two civilians were killed and 13 injured in an accident during
anti-aircraft firing manoeuvres near a nuclear power plant being built at
the southern Iranian city of Bushehr, a local official told AFP Monday.
[In Iran, at least two people were killed and 13 others were injured
during an live-fire anti-aircraft exercise meant to protect the nation's
first nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Iranian officials said several
anti-aircraft shells failed to explode and instead hit a vehicle in a
On Friday, President George Bush signed the Syrian Accountability Act
passed by a wide margin by the House and Senate. The new law imposes a
virtual U.S. trade embargo on Damascus unless it ends support for groups
on the State Department terrorism list and ends the Syrian occupation of
Lebanon. Bush, however, is likely to waive the provisions of the law for
national security considerations.
Over the weekend, President Bashar Assad met a U.S. congressional
delegation in Damascus and discussed Syria's harboring of Islamic insurgency
groups as well as Iraq. Both sides expressed the hope that U.S.-Syrian
relations would be improved.
"We haven't seen [cooperation] thus far, and we would like very much to
see it," Rep. Christopher Cox, head of the eight-member delegation, said.
"But we're certainly not going to be quiet about it."
Officials relayed their assessment of Iran and Syria as the European
Union has been wooing both Middle East states. On Dec. 9, the EU and Syria
signed an agreement that establishes a free trade area as well as a
political dialogue between Brussels and Damascus. A smiliar agreement was
reached between the EU and Iran.
At the same time, Rumsfeld said Turkey has been helpful to U.S.
interests in the region as well as in efforts to stabilize Iraq. The
secretary said Turkey has been effective in patrolling its border with Iraq
and allowing supplies for U.S. military units in northern Iraq.
"Turkey is being helpful," Rumsfeld said. "We are using Turkey as an
access point into the northern part of the country. They're doing a good job
of guarding their border."
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