The Bush administration has drafted contingency plans
for bringing military and economic pressure against the regime of Syrian President
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
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
"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
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.
delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns contained
members of the Pentagon, White House and National Security Council.
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."