NEW YORK — President Bush yesterday threatened to further isolate Syria if it does not stanch the flow of killers streaming into Iraq and vowed to press his case at the United Nations today.
“The Syrian leader must understand we take his lack of action seriously,” Mr. Bush said of Syrian President Bashar Assad. “The government is going to become more and more isolated.”
The warning came one day after America’s ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said “our patience is running out” and refused to rule out military action against Syria.
“The Syrian government can do a lot more to prevent the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq,” Mr. Bush said. “These people are coming from Syria into Iraq and killing a lot of innocent people. They’re trying to kill our folks, as well.”
Mr. Bush made his comments at the White House before leaving for two days of meetings at the United Nations. He was joined in the East Room by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was also on his way to the United Nations.
“President Talabani and I will take our seats at the United Nations in New York,” Mr. Bush said. “The session will mark the first time in a half-century that Iraq is represented by a freely elected government.”
U.S. and European diplomats said the United States is planning a diplomatic attack on Syria at the United Nations 60th anniversary summit, which begins today. Syrian officials have not been invited to a foreign ministers meeting on Lebanon hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Participants in the Monday ministerial meeting will include Britain, France, the European Union, the World Bank and Lebanon, with the potential addition of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia, diplomats said.
“It’s an important meeting to reaffirm support for Lebanon’s political and economic reforms,” a senior European diplomat said.
Washington’s renewed effort to isolate Syria follows repeated U.S. calls for Damascus to stop what the Bush administration says is continued meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs, including a potential role in political assassinations.
Although Syrian troops pulled out of Lebanon in the spring after three decades of de facto occupation, the United States says the Syrian intelligence service is still active in Lebanon.
U.S. and foreign diplomats said Mr. Assad decided against attending the summit, because he wanted to avoid the pressure he expected to encounter in New York.
“I suspect it has more to do with the fact that Syria feels under some pressure from U.N. investigations about its behavior in Lebanon,” Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick told the Al Arabiya TV network on Monday.
He referred to a probe into the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri led by U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis.
In Washington, Mr. Talabani thanked Mr. Bush effusively for toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
“In the name of the Iraqi people, I say to you, Mr. President, and to the glorious American people, thank you, thank you,” he said. “Thank you because you have liberated us from the worst kind of dictatorship. Our people suffered too much from this worst kind of dictatorship.”
Mr. Bush also said he would discuss his “grave concern” over Iran’s nuclear ambitions during meetings with world leaders, including a bilateral session yesterday afternoon with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The Bush administration is making a concerted effort to increase pressure on Iranian officials, who are in New York this week for U.N. meetings.
Mr. Hu acknowledged “frictions” over the U.S. trade imbalance with China, but promised to buy more imports from America. However, he hinted that cooperation would be forthcoming only if the Bush administration refrained from meddling in Taiwan.
“The proper handling of the Taiwan question holds the key to the sound and steady growth of the China-U.S. relationship,” Mr. Hu said.
Mr. Bush, for his part, made good on his promise to “bring up human rights” in his meeting with Mr. Hu, said Michael Green, senior director for Asia on the National Security Council. Mr. Green added that the president accepted an invitation from Mr. Hu to visit China for two days in November.
The president’s call for Syria to stop the flow of killers across its border came as U.S. forces continued to hunt such foreign fighters in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar. The offensive, known as Operation Restore Rights, began two weeks ago and has resulted in the killing or capture of hundreds of terrorists.
Mr. Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, on Monday accused Syria of having training camps for insurgents on its territory.
“A lot of these people are coming in through the airport in Damascus,” Mr. Zoellick said about the foreign fighters. “It’s not hard to stop people coming through the airport, and that’s where they ought to start.”
Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report.