- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell challenged Syria yesterday to accept the region’s “new strategic dynamic” with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein gone and a fresh Israeli-Palestinian peace effort under way.He also accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of breaking a promise two years earlier to shut down an Iraqi oil pipeline through Syria, as required by a U.N. embargo.Mr. Powell’s remarks to reporters as he flew to the Syrian capital set a stern tone for talks with Mr. Assad today.He said that oil from the Iraqi pipeline, which was cut off by U.S. troops last month, will not flow again until Syria pays market prices to a new Iraqi government.The secretary said that the United States will be looking for “specific action and performance” from Syria that reflect its “understanding” of the “new strategic dynamic” in the region.”I will make it very clear to him how the United States views the changed strategic situation in the region with the departure of Saddam Hussein’s regime and with the road map,” Mr. Powell said, with the latter being a reference to the new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan released this week. “I’ll explain to him how these two elements are related.”“I will encourage [the Syrians] to review these changes and take a look at some of their past policies, and see whether those policies seem to be relevant in light of a new, changed situation,” he said.At U.N. headuarters in New York, Syria’s U.N. envoy said yesterday Damascus will urge Mr. Powell to support a U.N. resolution calling for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction.The Arab-backed resolution, introduced by Syria in the Security Council, is clearly aimed at Israel, which is widely believed to have nuclear weapons. Israel refuses to confirm or deny the claim and is not a party to global treaties aimed at controlling the spread of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe said Syria believes the time is right for the council to adopt such a resolution because it will spur progress toward peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, who have just been presented with a new “road map” to settle their long and bloody conflict.The road map, which calls for a comprehensive peace settlement and the creation of a Palestinian state with final borders by 2005, also includes resolving issues with Syria and Lebanon, where Mr. Powell will pay a brief visit after he leaves Damascus today.The Bush administration turned up the heat on Syria toward the end of the military campaign in Iraq.It accused Mr. Assad’s regime of aiding Saddam, allowing Arabs into Iraq to fight the U.S.-led forces and providing refuge for fleeing Iraqi officials. In addition, the administration said Damascus was developing chemical weapons.President Bush said two weeks ago that there were some indications the Syrians were getting the message.But Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa told reporters in Damascus on Thursday that his government wants dialogue, not ultimatums, from Washington. “We believe in dialogue, not presenting demands,” he said.Washington has rejected speculation that Syria, which is on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, might be its next target for pre-emptive military action. But Mr. Powell yesterday declined to offer Syria a security guarantee.He said he did not expect the subject to “come up” during his visit, because there is no “context” for it.”They know what we are interested in,” he said of the Syrians. “They know the things we frankly disapprove of … . If they don’t meet any of them, that will be taken into account as we decide on our future strategy.”On earlier accusations that Iraq had sent weapons of mass destruction to Syria for safekeeping, Mr. Powell said: “We do have some concerns and we have conveyed them through the appropriate channels.”He also planned to call attention to the offices in Syria of several Palestinian factions, including the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which the United States has designated as terrorist organizations.Mr. Powell, who last month threatened economic and diplomatic sanctions if Damascus does not change its ways, brought up the issue again yesterday.He cited Congress’ 2001 USA Patriot Act, which aims to quash terrorism, as well as the Syria Accountability Act, recently reintroduced by several lawmakers after failing to win passage last year. The secretary did not elaborate on what the sanctions might cover.He also said he would try to persuade Mr. Assad that having good relations with the new Iraqi government, when it is formed, would produce economic benefits for Syria, which has had extensive trade relations with Iraq.The secretary said he had not forgotten Mr. Assad’s promise regarding the oil pipeline from Iraq through Syria when they first met in 2001, soon after Mr. Powell was named secretary of state.The oil continued to flow, circumventing U.N. sanctions, and Syria received some of the oil at below-market prices.”I will always have that in my background software and on my hard drive,” Mr. Powell said.Asked when oil will start flowing to Syria again, the secretary said: “Pay for the oil at market prices, it would seem to me. It would be something the new Iraqi government would be interested in doing, as opposed to letting it go on some concessional basis.”During a stop in Madrid on Thursday, Mr. Powell played down his expectations for the Damascus visit. “There will be a candid and straightforward discussion,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not looking forward to any particular deliverables.”Mr. Powell was met at the Damascus airport last night by Mr. Sharaa, who then accompanied the secretary to his hotel, where they shook hands before dozens of reporters.In Beirut today, Mr. Powell is scheduled to meet with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Rafiz Hariri and Foreign Minister Jean Obeid.

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