Bush puts State Dept. in charge of 'flexible' policy on terror sponsors

Monday, February 17, 2003

The Bush administration has authorized the State Department to develop what officials term a flexible policy toward state sponsors of terrorism.

The policy was outlined in a National Security Council document that details a new U.S. strategy to combat terrorism. The document said the State Department would be the leading agency in the development of regional anti-terrorism policies that would include such countries as Syria.

"We will not have a single, inflexible approach to handling the recognized state sponsors of terrorism," the document, called "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," said. "Each case is unique, with different interests and legacy issues involved. Each situation demands specifically tailored policies."

Most of the countries deemed by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism are from the Middle East. They include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, according to Middle East Newsline.

The National Security Council document appeared to support the refusal by the Bush administration officials to impose additional sanctions on Syria. House and Senate members have considered the legislation, accusing the administration of treating Syria differently from other state sponsors of terrorism.

"We are firmly committed to removing countries from the list once they have taken the necessary steps under our law and policy," the document said. "A checkered past does not foreclose future membership in the coalition against terrorism."

A senior administration official later said the State Department would examine the countries believed to harboring terrorists. The official said the United States would try to determine whether the terrorist presence is the result of a weak government, military or law enforcement.

"We are actively engaged in those countries that are having problems themselves," the official said. "Sometimes it's the military; sometimes it's the intelligence; sometimes it's law enforcement: always with State Department."

The National Security Council warned that the United States and its allies will target terrorist groups, with a priority on those seeking to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The document said the extent of U.S. efforts will depend on the immediate threat of the group and U.S. national interests.

The United States will assume a clear and pragmatic approach in prosecuting the campaign against terrorism," the document said. "This will include incentives for ending state sponsorship. When a state chooses not to respond to such incentives, tough decisions will be confronted. At all times within this new dynamic we will balance a nation's near-term actions against the long-term implications and consequences."

The NSC said the U.S. intelligence community will consider the expansion of recruitment, training, and operations. The intelligence community will also expand and improve relations with U.S. allies in regions targeted for counter-terrorist operations.

"To synchronize this effort, the Department of State will take the lead in developing specific regional strategies for the defeat of terrorism," the document said. "We will further leverage regional relationships, by ensuring appropriate allied participation with the regional Combatant Commanders as they prosecute the war on terrorism."

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