Bush administration completes get-tough plan for Syria

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Bush administration has drafted contingency plans for bringing military and economic pressure against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Officials said the administration has determined that diplomacy has failed to resolve U.S. concerns that Syria has been working to destabilize the interim government in Iraq.

They said the Assad regime has been harboring senior operatives of Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, regarded as the most lethal insurgent in Iraq, aides to Saddam Hussein as well as Iraqi nuclear scientists as part of a Syrian policy coordinated with Iran.

On Monday, the State Department reiterated its criticism of Syria for its harboring groups deemed as terrorists, Middle East Newsline reported. The department refused to condemn the Sept. 26 assassination of a Hamas leader in Damascus in a car-bombing attributed to Israel.

"If Americans are dying in Iraq because of Syrian policies, then this is something we are not going to tolerate," a senior official said.

The official, who refused to be identified, did not report any progress in U.S. efforts to end Syria's support of the insurgency movement in Iraq or other issues in dispute between Damascus and Washington.

Officials warned that unless Syria changes its policy within the next few weeks, the administration would consider economic and military measures against Damascus that would intensify in 2005. They said the Defense Department has drafted a range of military options meant to put Damascus on the defensive and encourage insurrection within Syria.

Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell praised Syria's redeployment of more than 3,000 troops in Lebanon and suggested the onset of a new atmosphere in relations.

"I can't go into details on this, but they gave me some information with respect to financial activities [to insurgents in Iraq] and how we can cooperate more fully on that," Powell said in a Sept. 24 meeting with the New York Times editorial board. "We're looking at ways to improve our intelligence exchange."

Two weeks ago, Syria and the United States met in Damascus in what officials termed was a hard-nosed review of bilateral relations that focused on the Assad regime's policy in Iraq.

The U.S. delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns contained members of the Pentagon, White House and National Security Council.

The talks reviewed Syrian WMD programs, support for the insurgency in Iraq and Syria's harboring of billions of dollars sent by the Saddam Hussein regime in 2002 and 2003.

"What we said in Damascus is that this has to stop," the senior official said. "Our message to Syria was a warning that this is very serious. Because this means Syria shares responsibility for the killing of Americans and Iraqis, and it has to stop."

At the meeting, Damascus agreed to participate in talks with Iraq and U.S. Central Command to launch cooperation that would halt the flow of insurgents and weapons from Syria, officials said. Officials said the Assad regime was warned that the failure of the military talks, which began on Tuesday in Damascus, could trigger what they termed a major deterioration in U.S. relations with Syria.

"Our job is to convince them that the risk of undermining us is much greater than the opposite," the senior official said.

During the September meeting in Damascus, officials said, the U.S. delegation presented the Assad regime with evidence of Syrian government aid to the insurgency movement in Iraq. The delegation argued that Syria has intensified its support of Al Zarqawi and pro-Saddam forces in an effort to torpedo Iraqi elections scheduled in January 2005.

"It's not just a question of border control," the senior official said. "Institutions within Syria are actively colluding with our enemies in Iraq."

"Terrorists and their supporters beget a cycle of violence that is best addressed through the end of support of terror," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said. "We have made it clear that in numerous meetings with the Syrians that we think it's in their interests, in the interests of the region, to end support for terrorist organizations and terrorist individuals operating from their territory."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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