- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

President Bush yesterday said there are "positive signs" that Syria will expel all Iraqi leaders seeking refuge there, easing concerns that Damascus would be the next target of military action.
Just hours after Mr. Bush's comments, the surrenders of two Iraqi officials on the U.S. most-wanted list were announced.
"I'm confident the Syrian government has heard us," Mr. Bush said after attending Easter church services at Fort Hood near his Texas ranch.
"I believe it when they say they want to cooperate with us," the president said.
The two latest captured Iraqi officials, both of whom are pictured in the U.S.-distributed 55-card deck of Iraq's most-wanted leaders, were a Saddam Hussein son-in-law and the former minister of scientific research and higher education.
Science Minister Abdal Khaliq al-Ghafar was in coalition custody yesterday, U.S. Central Command said.
"We can confirm that he has been taken into custody," Lt. Herb Josey told reporters at Central Command's war headquarters in Qatar, adding that the minister was captured Saturday.
Earlier, spokesmen for the Iraqi National Congress (INC) had said one of Saddam's sons-in-law had been "persuaded" to surrender to the INC in Baghdad.
The son-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Abdallah, also was deputy head of the Tribal Affairs Office in Saddam's regime and is married to Saddam's youngest daughter, Hala.
"There have been some negotiations until he was persuaded to come to Baghdad and surrender to our people in Baghdad," Haider Ahmed, a spokesman for the INC, told the Associated Press.
INC official Sadeq al-Mussawi told Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite television that the son-in-law had been hiding in Syria. U.S. Central Command officials said they knew of the INC's claims but had no further details.
Mr. Bush and other officials say Syria has been hiding senior Iraqi officials and allowed fighters to cross the border to fight on behalf of Iraq.
The State Department lists Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, and Damascus is believed to have given Iraq war supplies. Additionally, officials fear Syria is harboring or developing chemical weapons. Syria denies all of the charges.
"They're getting the message that they should not harbor Ba'ath Party officials, high-ranking Iraqi officials. There's some positive signs," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush would not reveal which Iraqi leaders are believed to be hiding in Syria, but said when the allies pass on the names, they "fully expect the Syrian government to hand the person over."
Reps. Darrell Issa, California Republican, and Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, met yesterday for several hours with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who assured them Syria will cooperate.
"We asked for and got two assurances. One is that he would not grant asylum to any Iraqi war criminal of any sort. And secondly, that in fact he would expel any that he would find in the country," Mr. Issa said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."
The Syrian leader understands the trouble he faces which includes sanctions and is going out of this way to cooperate, Mr. Issa said.
The allies should avoid military action, but if Syria does not hand over wanted Iraqis, they should be taken by force, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"They're war criminals. And if the Syrians don't cooperate, I think we should use every part of our skill and bravery to go in and capture or kill those Saddam Hussein loyalists ourselves," Mr. Lieberman said.
Mr. Lieberman, a presidential hopeful, said he does not advocate military action, but said Syria must choose which side to support in the war against terrorism.
"After September 11th, when we declared that war on terrorism, we said it was time for the nations of the world to take sides. Either they were with us or they were with the terrorists," Mr. Lieberman said.
"The Syrians have not clearly taken sides. They have helped us some in pursuit of al Qaeda, but in other ways they continue to house and support several terrorist groups right in the Syrian capital of Damascus," he said.
Mr. Lieberman said Syria was beginning to show signs of cooperation, but said an ultimatum must be given.
"They're probably feeling unsettled right now, and they should," he said.
On ABC's "This Week," Mr. Rahall warned against sanctions and suggested that a pipeline discovered diverting oil from sanctioned Iraq be made operational. Anything less would be considered "more Syria-bashing," he said.
"The closing down of that pipeline and the loss of revenues thereby has put that issue very much on the table. If we are to work with the Syrians and want to address their problems, their interests in this region have to be addressed as well," Mr. Rahall said.
"We need to resolve these issues in a way that doesn't bash Syria needlessly in the public arena and/or congressional arena, but rather to work with them in a diplomatic manner," he said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also met with Mr. Assad yesterday to discuss postwar Iraq and U.S.-Syrian relations.
"Syria expects Egypt to use its good offices with Washington to help defuse the tension," a diplomatic source told AP.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Syria has been cooperative with the United States in the war against terror, specifically with information regarding al Qaeda, but said the country's history cannot be ignored.
"There's been some evidence that they're moving toward a more cooperative position with the United States," Mr. Durbin said. "But … you look at the history of Syria, its history of harboring international terrorist organizations in Damascus, of sending its army to occupy southern Lebanon and harass Israel. It's really not the kind of conduct which we can countenance as part of a peaceful future for the Middle East."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide