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Powell Tones Down Rhetoric Toward Syria

Powell Tones Down Rhetoric Toward Syria

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell, seeking to tone down hawkish rhetoric toward Syria, said Tuesday the Bush administration has expressed concerns about Syrian actions, but has no plan for a military move against the Damascus government.

In an appearance at the Foreign Press Center, Powell said Iraq was "a unique case" that required U.S. military action.

He rejected the suggestion that the administration has a list of countries against whom it might also retaliate militarily.

"There is no list, there is no war plan," he said. Powell acknowledged that the administration has informed both Syria and Iran that their actions during the Iraq war were not helpful. He specifically cited reports that Syria has given sanctuary to Iraqis wanted for human rights crimes.

The administration accused Syria of sponsoring terrorism and harboring remnants of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime and told Damascus to stop it or face diplomatic or economic sanctions.

"It is time to sign on to a different kind of Middle East," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Monday as Syria took another public pasting from the administration.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "concerned that recent statements directed at Syria should not contribute to a wider destabilization in a region already affected heavily by the war in Iraq."

Syrian officials denied having chemical weapons and said the United States has yet to prove similar charges against Iraq. They also accused Israel of spreading misinformation about Syria.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer rejected those denials, calling Syria a rogue nation.

Rice, in a parallel thrust at Damascus, said Syria's support for terrorism and "harboring the remnants of the Iraqi regime" were unacceptable. But she indicated the administration was not contemplating military action.

Using the same formula the administration has applied to North Korea and its aggressive nuclear weapons program, Rice told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "The president has made clear every problem in the Middle East cannot be dealt with the same way."

And Powell signaled President Bashar Assad that the administration still would like to include Syria in the Mideast peacemaking it intends to accelerate between Israel and the Palestinians.

"As we go down the road to peace, we want it to be a comprehensive peace, and ultimately, of course, that would have to include finding a way to settle the outstanding issues with Syria, as well," Powell said at a State Department news conference.

Army Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was asked Tuesday if the administration has instructed the joint chiefs to draw up plans to capture former Iraqi government leaders now believed to be in Syria and to destroy chemical weapons in that country.

"The joint chiefs right now are very much focused on our current mission inside of Iraq," Pace said on CBS's "The Early Show." What Syria does is important, he said. But Pace also said "that's a policy issue between the governments."

Syria seeks to recover the Golan Heights, a strategic area it lost to Israel in the 1967 Mideast War.

Although it long has been listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism, ever since Richard Nixon's presidency 30 years ago the United States has sought to interest Syria in peacemaking with Israel.

Itamar Rabinovich, who was Israel's chief negotiator with Syria from 1992 to 1995, said its government wanted to please a radical constituency inside Syria but also would like to protect Syria's relationship with the United States.

In a telephone interview, Rabinovich, now president of Tel Aviv University, said that over the years "the United States has been fascinated with the possibility of getting Syria to switch sides and become an ally of the United States."

Powell noted Monday that Syria had said its border with Iraq was closed. However, he said, "it might mean the main roads are closed but whether or not others are able to get across the border is something that I can't speak to."

"But once they get into Syria and start heading to Damascus I would expect that Syrian authorities would do everything they could not to provide these people safe haven," he said.

U.S. commanders said volunteers from Syria were among the foreigners helping Iraqis put up resistance against U.S. troops in Baghdad. Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a Central Command spokesman, said the fighters were often working alone or in small clusters.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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