U.S. presses Syria to follow Libya's example

Monday, February 23, 2004

The United States has urged Damascus to follow Libya and dismantle Syria's weapons of mass destruction programs.

In the most direct appeal, the Bush administration called specifically on Syria to allow international inspections of suspected WMD facilities as well as dismantle weaponry. The administration said Syria's WMD program has become a major obstacle toward better relations with the United States.

"We hope other governments, too, like Syria, will realize that chemical weapons and other WMD programs won't make their countries safer," Secretary of State Colin Powell told an audience at Princeton University on Friday, "their people more prosperous, or their own hold on power more secure. To the contrary. It goes in the other direction."

[Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency completed a report that asserted that Libya ordered 10,000 centrifuges, separated plutonium and completed enrichment of a small amount of uranium, Middle East Newsline reported. The report said Libya began its nuclear program in 1980.]

Officials said Powell's warning was part of the administration's effort to revise Syria's policy before President George Bush reports to Congress on compliance by Damascus to the Syria Accountability Act. The bill, signed into law in December 2003, warns of a virtual U.S. trade embargo on Syria unless it withdraws troops from Lebanon, ends support for groups termed terrorist and dismantles its WMD. Bush is expected to report to Congress by May.

"We must continue to demonstrate around the world that WMD proliferation doesn't pay," Powell said. "And to do so, we will continue to use a tough-minded diplomacy that blends power and persuasion in proper measure, tailored to the case at hand. But our aim is the same in all cases, and we will not miss our mark. We will not tolerate WMD proliferation. We will not acquiesce to it. And we certainly will not reward it."

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said a Syrian decision to eliminate its WMD arsenal would be in that country's long-term interest. Ereli did not elaborate.

"I think it'd be more productive for Syria to get rid of its WMD," Ereli said after Powell's speech. "Look at what Libya did. Libya came to the conclusion that its attempts to develop WMD were costing it money and causing it isolation, and that it made the strategic decision that WMD is not going to protect us and it's not going to protect us and it's not going to buy us any friends."

Neither Powell nor Ereli provided details of Syria's WMD programs. But a CIA report to Congress in late 2003 said Damascus has pursued biological and chemical weapons and has been discussing nuclear assistance with Russia.

Ereli dismissed the Syrian argument that it required WMD to defend against Israel's purported nuclear arsenal. The deputy spokesman said the United States will work to achieve peace between Damascus and Jerusalem.

Ereli said the State Department will report to Congress on whether Syria has violated the terms of the Syria Accountability Act. The State Department would also decide whether to recommend sanctions.

"There's a delay of a number of months between when the act was passed in December and when the report is due and when the decisions on sanctions are made," Ereli said. "So that is still playing out. There are no decisions that are imminent.

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