Tuesday, January 21, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 21 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday Arabs and Muslims feel angry and frustrated because of U.S. determination to strike Iraq.

Assad was speaking during a meeting in Damascus with William Burns, the visiting U.S. assistant secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs, who is touring the region. Burns was also scheduled to visit Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as part of Washington’s efforts to shore up regional support ahead of any possible war with Iraq.

The official Syrian News Agency said talks between Assad and Burns tackled “the dangerous situation in the region” and the ongoing efforts by neighboring countries to prevent an attack on Baghdad. Talks emphasized the need for all parties, including the United States, to respect U.N. resolutions.

Assad said not only Iraq but all other countries, especially the United States, were concerned with respecting Security Council Resolution 1441.

He said Syria was making efforts along with other countries in the region to prevent a war on Iraq.

He also expressed “feelings of anger and frustration” among the Arabs and Muslims because “they feel the U.S. is determined to hit Iraq regardless of the reasons.”

Burns’ visit to Damascus came as Turkey prepared to host a meeting in Istanbul that would gather foreign ministers of Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran to discuss ways to avoid war in Iraq and find peaceful solutions based on Resolution 1441.

The Istanbul meeting was to be followed by another in Damascus and both gatherings were to determine whether a summit meeting would be possible or necessary, a well-informed Syrian source said.

The source told United Press International Turkish officials might propose the discussion of U.S. calls to change the Iraqi regime but some of the participants at the meeting “would avoid such discussions for they consider it would be a dangerous development and precedent.”

He said all political efforts in the region “indicates that a decision to go to war is not final and there is a window open whereby the countries in the region will keep on trying until the last minute to avoid the war.”

The source dismissed reports that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might willingly relinquish power and leave Baghdad, saying “knowing him, we will never leave Iraq and will hold on his position even more.”

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