- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

Even before yesterday’s attacks killed at least 15 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Bush administration had repeatedly demanded that Syria end the practice of permitting foreign terrorists to cross the border into Iraq to kill American troops. While, at press time, the origin of the killers who carried out yesterday’s attack was unknown, the senior U.S. official in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, repeated Washington’s demands that Syria do more to prevent the foreigners from crossing the border.

In Washington, one of the most notable developments of recent weeks has been the willingness of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (which, inside the administration, had generally argued for a soft stance towards Damascus) to speak more bluntly about Syria’s harmful role in Iraq. In testimony Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns noted that, in May, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Damascus, where he urged President Bashar Assad to seal the border with Iraq. While Syria did take some steps in this direction, Mr. Burns said, their efforts “fall short of what is necessary.” He added: “Syria continues to be a preferred route for those seeking to undermine coalition efforts to establish stability and a peaceful transition to democracy in Iraq.” In September, Mr. Bremer said that coalition forces held 278 foreign nationals in custody, of which 123 were from Syria.

In what sounded like a warning, Mr. Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Syria harbors “either the illusion that cosmetic steps will be enough to defuse our concerns” or “a misplaced belief…that U.S. engagement in Iraq and with the Israelis and the Palestinians will prevent us from pursuing a robust agenda with Syria.”

Thus far, the administration has yet to explain whether a “robust agenda” might include military action against Syria’s boy dictator. But, should Syria continue to refuse to seal its border, and American and innocent Iraqi casualties in the Sunni Triangle area, in particular, continue to rise, Washington’s patience may finally run out.

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