- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

CAIRO, April 17 (UPI) — Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa said Thursday that his country won't allow international inspections of its military arsenal, which the U.S. claims include chemical weapons.

"No, Syria will not allow any inspection. We will only cooperate with countries of the Middle East to make the region free of weapons of mass destruction and deprive the U.S. of this alibi," Sharaa said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

He said American accusations that Syria had weapons of mass destruction and gave shelter to fleeing Iraqi officials only served Israel's interests.

"The threats aimed at serving Israel which is still occupying the lands of others by force," he said. He also claimed that Israel's allies in the U.S. administration were instigating the campaign against Syria.

Sharaa and his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, called for an end to what he called the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq as soon as possible, and he said Iraqis should have a free hand to choose their own government.

Maher stressed that it was "essential to place the fate of Iraq in the hands of the Iraqi people and as such it was necessary to end foreign military presence in Iraq.

"It is also essential that Iraqis enjoy peace and security and choose their rulers by themselves to fulfill their national objectives and aspirations."

He said a meeting of Iraq's neighbors, in addition to Egypt, which is to convene in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Friday, will call for ending foreign occupation and giving Iraqis the chance to form a national government without foreign interference.

Maher said Egypt backed Syria's draft resolution to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, which was submitted on Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council.

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