US wins little support for Syria threats

15 April 2003
Foreign governments on 14 April joined a chorus of disapproval against the US' newly belligerent stance towards Syria, describing American threats as unhelpful and inflammatory. Several leading White House officials that day elaborated on their accusations against Damascus. Secretary of State Colin Powell threatened some form of sanctions: 'With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward.' Referring to the war on Iraq, he said of Syria: 'In light of this new environment, they should review their behaviour, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity.' The US wants Syria to cease any support for Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Damascus of having carried out chemicals weapons testing within the past 12 to 15 months. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, quoting from a CIA dossier, alleged that Syria had been developing the nerve agent sarin.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa professed himself astounded by the threats and an Egyptian government spokesman interpreted the statements as indicating a general intention to threaten Arab countries. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said that the US needed to moderate its rhetoric and that dialogue rather than threats were needed. Russia and France warned that the US comments would aggravate tension in the Middle East. 'Do not let us underestimate the fact that this region today - whether at government or popular level people are experiencing a very deep feeling of unease, frustration, sometimes even humiliation,' said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the same day that his foreign office minister Mike O'Brien was in Damascus meeting President Asad, reassured MPs that the US had no plans to launch a war against Syria. 'I have the advantage of talking to the American president on a regular basis and I can assure you there are no plans to invade Syria,' he told the House of Commons. 'Neither has anyone on the other side of the water, as far as I am aware, said there are plans.' Asad had pledged that no fleeing allies of Saddam Hussein would be allowed shelter in Syria, Blair said.

The only note of support for the American stance came from Israel. 'We have a long list of issues we are thinking of demanding from the Syrians and it is proper that it should be done through the Americans,' Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Maariv daily. 'It starts from removing Hezbollah's threat from southern Lebanon.

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