- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush yesterday accused Iran and Syria of aiding and abetting terrorists seeking to undermine the Middle East peace process, warning the two nations that he will hold them accountable.

“Today, Syria and Iran continue to harbor and assist terrorists. This behavior is completely unacceptable, and states that support terror will be held accountable,” the president said in a news conference at his Texas ranch with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr. Bush said Iran and Syria are standing in the way of Middle East peace and creation of a Palestinian state by allowing anti-Israel terror cells to operate.

“Supporting and harboring terrorists undermines the prospects for peace in the Middle East, and betrays the true interests of the Palestinian people,” he said. “Terrorism is the greatest obstacle to the emergence of a Palestinian state. And all leaders who seek this goal have an obligation to back up their words in real actions against terror.”

Mr. Bush urged Middle Eastern governments — particularly Syria and Iran — to support the peace efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

“Both Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon are showing leadership and courage. Now it’s time for governments across the Middle East to support the efforts of these two men by fighting terror in all its forms,” he said.

Mr. Abbas meets at the White House with Mr. Bush on Friday; Mr. Sharon visits July 29.

The president in 2001 dubbed Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil” that threatened peace efforts around the globe.

“The war on terror continues,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “We will see it through to victory. Global terrorist networks are a threat to America, to Italy and to all peaceful nations. And we are disrupting and destroying those networks.

“The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to America, to Italy and to all peaceful nations.”

Syria joined with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and last year supported U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 calling on the Iraqi dictator to disarm or face “serious consequences.”

But U.S. intelligence agencies and military leaders said Iraqi Ba’ath Party officials are likely to have fled to Syria as U.S. and British troops advanced on Baghdad in April.

Weapons specialists suspected that Saddam was able to hide weapons of mass destruction in Syria as U.N. inspectors searched in vain for them in Iraq.

U.S. officials also have accused Syria of backing Palestinian and Lebanese groups it classifies as terrorist. Among them is Hamas, which is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis.

Bush administration officials say Iran is not doing enough to stop the al Qaeda terror network responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

U.S. officials also have questioned Iran’s need to construct nuclear power plants, given its large stocks of oil and natural gas. In addition, Iran has purchased long-range missiles from North Korea.

In Brussels yesterday, the 15-nation European Union issued its strongest warning so far to Iran, saying it would review relations with Tehran in September, Reuters news agency reported.

EU foreign ministers, who were negotiating a trade and cooperation agreement with the Islamic republic, expressed “increasing concern” about Iran’s nuclear program. They reaffirmed that closer economic ties depended on Iranian progress in four areas: human rights, fighting terrorism, nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and an improved attitude toward the Middle East peace process.

Iran said it viewed weapons of mass destruction as a serious threat to its own security. It repeated that its nuclear program was aimed at meeting the enormous energy demands of a rapidly developing economy, Reuters reported.

Mr. Bush yesterday warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that developing nuclear weapons would “alienate” him from the world, but said a 9-month-old nuclear standoff could be solved diplomatically.

He dismissed reports that Pyongyang had built a second plant to process plutonium, concealed to avoid detection by U.S. satellites.

“The desire by the North Koreans to convince the world that they are in the process of developing a nuclear arsenal is nothing new. We have known that for a while,” Mr. Bush said.

North Korea told U.S. officials in early July that it had completed the reprocessing of 8,000 reactor fuel rods, enough weapons-grade plutonium for about five or six nuclear bombs. Those are in addition to the one or two bombs that U.S. officials believe Pyongyang already may have.

Although Mr. Kim has grown increasingly bellicose toward the United States, Mr. Bush said diplomacy and pressure from nearby nations is the most prudent path for now.

“I do believe we can solve this issue diplomatically by encouraging the neighborhood — the Chinese, the South Koreans and the Japanese — to join us with a single voice that says to Mr. Kim Jong-il, ‘A decision to develop a nuclear arsenal is one that will alienate you from the rest of the world,’” he said.

“And, therefore, we must continue to work with the neighborhood to convince Kim Jong-iI that his decision is an unwise decision. And we will do just that,” he said.

Mr. Bush also called on allies to help rebuild Iraq.

“The more people involved in Iraq, the better off we will be,” he said. “A free Iraq is a crucial part of winning the war on terror.”

He thanked Mr. Berlusconi for Italy’s support in the U.S.-led war in Iraq, calling the new European Union president “a good friend and a strong ally.”

“Defending freedom requires cost and sacrifice. The United States is grateful for Italy’s willingness to bear the burdens with us,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Berlusconi said it was important to heal the rift between the United States and the European nations that opposed the war, including France and Germany.

“We really need to support and develop a culture of union and cohesion and certainly not nurture the culture of division,” the Italian prime minister said. “Selfishness, narcissism and division shall never win.”

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