- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Warning Syria

Syria’s top diplomat in Washington yesterday insisted his government does not support terrorism, but later in the day, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned Syria against sheltering a group that targets Israel.

Imad Moustapha, the charge d’affaires at the Syrian Embassy, told the Middle East Institute that his country provides no support for any terrorist group.

“Bring us any evidence an operation was planned in Damascus,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Mr. Moustapha said Syria has closed the information offices that were once run by some groups that the United States blamed for terrorist attacks.

“We will not allow them to do any planning,” he said.

Mr. Powell, however, blamed Hezbollah, one of the groups supported by Syria, for reigniting another round of violence with Israel. Hezbollah took responsibility for an attack that killed an Israeli soldier on Monday, and Israeli warplanes struck Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon yesterday.

Mr. Powell, at a news conference, called on Syria to condemn the actions by Hezbollah.

“The deliberate action that they took, which resulted in the loss of life, once again demonstrates the nature of that organization. We believe that all parties interested in peace should condemn that kind of action by Hezbollah,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Moustapha said his government wants to reopen talks with Israel and regain the Golan Heights, lost when Syria attacked Israel in the 1967 war.

“We want to regain the Golan Heights through negotiations,” he said. “We are not going to war.”

Visa-waiver worries

Visitors to the United States from the 27 countries that are exempt from entry visas for short-term stays have so far avoided the fingerprinting requirements to which all other foreigners have been subjected upon their arrival since Jan. 5.

But unless they meet an Oct. 26 deadline to obtain passports that can be read by special scanning machines, citizens of those nations will automatically lose the visa-waiver privilege, our State Department reporter Nicholas Kralev reports.

Those travelers will have to get a visa at a U.S. consulate overseas, which means they will be photographed and fingerprinted at ports of entry, a State Department official said.

The only country that was given an earlier deadline of April 2003 was Belgium, the official said, because of concerns about its passport approval procedures.

“It’s not that hard to get a passport in some parts of Belgium,” the official said, adding that a machine-readable passport has better safeguards against identity fraud.

Franciskus van Daele, the Belgian ambassador to the United States, said in a letter to The Washington Times that his country introduced machine-readable passports in February 2001.

“Today, over half of the Belgian passports in circulation” meet the new requirements, he said. “By September 2004, it is estimated that a mere 13 percent of the old-type passports will still be around.”

Rebel suspect eyed

The U.S. ambassador to Colombia says the Bush administration might seek the extradition of a suspected rebel leader being held on charges of terrorism, drug smuggling and money laundering.

Ambassador William Wood told the El Tiempo newspaper in the capital, Bogota, that the United States is studying the case of Ricardo Palmera to determine whether he can be charged with violating U.S. law.

The guerrilla suspect, known by his nom de guerre of “Simon Trinidad,” was arrested Jan. 2 in Ecuador and turned over to Colombian authorities to face trial.

Colombian authorities contend that the suspect is a key leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has links to narco-terrorists.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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