- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

President Bush yesterday said U.S. troops are making it more difficult for foreign terrorists to enter northwest Iraq, but expressed frustration that Syria is not doing more to shut down its border.

“We’ve made it clear to Syria we expect them to help us secure their border and to stop the transit of suicide [bombers] coming from other countries through Syria into Iraq. Their response hasn’t been very satisfactory to date,” the president said after meeting with his top war advisers for two hours at the Pentagon.

“I continue to remind them of their obligation. … In order to secure a border, it requires cooperation on both sides of the border, and we’re getting limited cooperation from Syria,” he said in response to a question from The Washington Times.

Dealing with the aftermath of one catastrophic hurricane and preparing for the strike of another, Mr. Bush sought to reassure Americans that his administration is not losing focus on the war against terror.

“Our focus on defending our country remains undiminished,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, with a chart on one side detailing the growing number of trained Iraqi army troops, Mr. Bush said U.S. forces are striving to repeat their successes in the northwestern part of Iraq.

“This area was the main route of foreign terrorists entering Iraq from Syria and a major concern of coalition forces. During operations in the key town of Tal Afar, Iraqi security forces outnumbered U.S. forces for the first time in a major offensive operation. Our joint efforts killed, captured or flushed out hundreds of terrorists,” Mr. Bush said.

He said Iraqi forces remain in Tal Afar to make sure the terrorists are not allowed “to return, regroup and hold hostage the innocent residents of that city.”

Syria’s border-control efforts have prompted criticism from Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who on Wednesday accused Damascus of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions by not doing enough to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.

“We ask again our neighbors to root out elements of terror and join us in regional strategic cooperation. Neighboring countries have responsibilities towards Iraq that they have agreed to,” Mr. Zebari said during a Security Council meeting.

“The bulk of foreign fighters and terrorists are infiltrating from Syria, and the Syrian government has not demonstrated any serious cooperation to help us stop their transit,” he said.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations denied the charges.

“I can assure you that Syria has the political will and is very serious to tackle this issue,” Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said.

In his prepared remarks at the Pentagon, the president said withdrawing from Iraq would be a mistake that would embolden terrorists as weak responses to other terror attacks led to the September 11, 2001, hijackings.

“The terrorists saw our response to the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings in the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole,” Mr. Bush said. “The terrorists concluded that we lacked the courage and character to defend ourselves and so they attacked us. Now the terrorists are testing our will and resolve in Iraq.

“Our withdrawal from Iraq would allow the terrorists to claim an historic victory over the United States.”

Also yesterday, Mr. Bush met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who he said had agreed to a U.S. request that he meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“I want to thank you, sir, for taking a leadership role. It will be very helpful to have your voice of reason there to talk to both leaders,” the president said during a brief joint public appearance in the Oval Office.

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