Asad calls for US talks

15 December 2003
Syrian President Asad on 13 December called for talks with the US aimed at healing the escalating diplomatic rift between the two countries, which widened a day earlier when US President Bush signed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Restoration Act 2003. 'I can say that we have many differences with the US, but we do not consider them our enemy,' Asad was quoted as saying in the local daily Kathimerini. Asad said that he wanted a 'a frank and constructive dialogue' over the act, which officials in Damascus described as 'really bad - bad for Syria'.

The act calls on Damascus to 'immediately and unconditionally halt support for terrorism', and to 'stop facilitating transit from Syria to Iraq of individuals, military equipment, and all lethal items', except when permitted by the US or Iraqi authorities. If Syria does not comply with US demands Washington could use the act to impose unilateral sanctions. The White House would have to stop the sale of any dual-use items that could be used to build weapons, and impose at least two out of a list of six possible sanctions. These are:

1- an export ban,

2- prohibition of US businesses operating in Syria,

3- restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the United States,

4- limits on Syrian airline flights to the United States,

5- a reduction of diplomatic contacts,

6- a freeze on Syrian assets in the US.

Bush signed the act on 12 December after it attracted overwhelming support in the House of Representatives and Congress. 'My approval of the act does not constitute my adoption of the various statements of policy in the act as US foreign policy,' Bush said in a statement delivered by a White House spokesman. Some observers in Washington have said that Bush felt obliged to sign the text because of the support it attracted from lawmakers, despite personal reservations with the document (MEED 12:11:03).

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