U.S. sends Armitage to Syria

Friday, December 31, 2004

The United States has launched another high-level effort to persuade Syria to stop its support to the insurgency in Iraq.

The Bush administration has sent Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Syria as part of a Middle East tour to prepare for Iraqi elections on Jan. 30. Officials said Armitage would demand that Syria implement its commitment to cooperate with the United States on border security with Iraq.

"We have felt it's very, very important for Syria to continue to take further action on issues of infiltration or insurgents, or support for insurgents in Iraq," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Thursday. "That's where we think some of that activity is emanating and supported from Syria. That will be a primary focus."

Officials said the administration has determined that Syria has failed to honor its obligations to stop the Iraqi insurgency. They said despite numerous appeals, Syria has refused to arrest or deport senior aides of deposed President Saddam Hussein who have been financing and directing the Sunni insurgency from their headquarters in Damascus.

"We have been quite straightforward and frank in our discussions with the Syrians over time, and I'm sure deputy secretary will continue those conversations in that vain," Boucher said.

Officials said Syrian cooperation with U.S. security efforts in Iraq was vital to ensure elections on Jan. 30. They said Sunni insurgents have been ordered to disrupt the national elections at any cost, particularly in the Sunni Triangle.

"Support for the insurgency is an urgent issue for the United States, for the Iraqis," Boucher said, "especially for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, who have raised these issues again and again with a great degree of insistence with the Syrian government and we continue to do that, as well."

Officials said Armitage would also discuss Iraq with its other neighbors, including Jordan and Turkey. Both have provided logistical support to the U.S.-led military coalition that has operated in Iraq since 2003.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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