U.S. to Syria: Follow Libya's example

Monday, January 19, 2004

The United States has pressed Syria to follow Libya's lead and end its weapons of mass destruction programs.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has sent Damascus a message that an improvement in relations would be linked to a pledge by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to end its nonconventional weapons programs. They said the administration has set a new standard for normalized diplomatic relations that calls for an end to WMD programs.

Last year, the U.S. intelligence community raised the prospect that Syria might have received WMD from neighboring Iraq during the weeks prior to the U.S.-led war in March 2003. But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the evidence to support this allegation remains insufficient.

Powell, differing with senior officials in the Defense Department, said Syria has not been characterized as a member of the so-called axis of evil, Middle East Newsline reported. In 2003, the axis has referred to such countries as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea.

"They should follow the example of other nations in the region, especially Libya, [which] made a very important and positive judgment that they were gaining nothing from developing weapons of mass destruction except getting the condemnation of the whole world, being denied political openness, being denied economic opportunity, and it was useless for them and Col. Khaddafy made the decision to get rid of them," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Friday.

Officials said the State Department would continue to keep Syria on the list of terrorist sponsors. They said Syria has not eliminated bases and offices employed by groups deemed by the department as terrorist.

So far, officials said, Syria has refused to discuss the dismantling of its WMD programs and has rejected following the Libyan example. They said the Assad regime has insisted on a comprehensive regional effort that first addresses Israel's nuclear weapons program. Israel has never acknowledged such a program.

The U.S. effort for Syria to dismantle its WMD arsenal stems from a law signed by President George Bush in December 2003 that calls for fresh sanctions on Damascus. The Syrian Accountability Act paves the way for a virtual U.S. trade embargo on Syria unless Damascus ends its WMD programs, the military occupation of Lebanon and support for groups deemed as terrorist.

The CIA, in its most recent unclassified report on WMD programs, expressed concern over what it terms "Syrian nuclear intentions." The report cited Syrian nuclear cooperation with Russia and suggested that Damascus has sought access to unspecified foreign expertise.

Syria was also said to have attempted to develop advanced chemical weapons and sought to develop an offensive biological weapons capability. The CIA report covered the first half of 2003.

"We have made it clear to the Syrians that we are not looking for trouble with them, but that it is time for them to stop supporting terrorist activities that inflame the Middle East and make it more difficult to find a solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians," Powell said in an interview with Sky News. "And they should live in peace with their neighbors and not develop those kinds of weapons that might cause people concerns."

The officials said the administration's approach to Syria included messages to Israel not to launch a high profile effort to renew peace talks with Syria. They said the Syrian call for renewed peace efforts marked an effort to reduce U.S. pressure on Damascus.

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