Talking Points Regarding Syria

by Stephen Zunes -- -April 15, 2003

Recent statements by top Bush administration officials have accused the Syrian government of aiding senior Iraqi officials to escape, possessing chemical weapons, and committing "hostile acts" against the U.S. by allegedly supplying military equipment, such as night- vision goggles, to the Iraqis. On April 10th, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress, "The Syrians are behaving badly. They need to be reminded of that, and if they continue, then we need to think about what our policy is with respect to a country that harbors terrorists or harbors war criminals, or was in recent times shipping things to Iraq. People should keep in mind the following points in response to administration claims:

[These FPIF Talking Points were compiled by Stephen Zunes. Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus, an associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, and author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press). A longer version of this article is available and will be periodically updated on FPIF's website (online at]

US Warns Syria Not To Provide Haven For Wanted Iraqis

By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent
published 14 April 2003 - Independent/UK

Syria faced renewed warnings from America not to provide safe haven for senior figures in Saddam Hussein's regime.

Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, increased the diplomatic pressure on Damascus while Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of de fence, extended his rhetoric against the Syrians, insisting that "there's no question" that some senior Iraqi leaders had fled to Syria. "We certainly are hopeful Syria will not become a haven for war criminals or terrorists," Mr Rumsfeld said.

President George Bush added to the pressure, saying: "Syria just needs to co-operate with the United States and our coalition partners, not harbour any Baathists, any military officials, any people who need to be held to account."

Speaking to reporters later, he appeared to threaten Syria with possible military action, by pointedly saying that Damascus held chemical weapons, and that the Iraq war showed that "we're serious about stopping weapons of mass destruction".

Asked by a reporter whether Syria could face military action if it did not turn over Iraqi leaders, Mr Bush said: "They just need to co-operate."

On Saturday a gunman who shot dead an American Marine guarding a hospital in Baghdad was found to have a Syrian identification card by US military officials. Marines shot and killed him.

Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, who is visiting Lebanon, said the international community should focus on rebuilding Iraq and reviving Middle East peace efforts. Asked about American accusations against Damascus, he said: "The time is not correct. The time is to work together."

His comments coincided with visits by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Mike O'Brien, a Foreign Office minister, to Iraq's neighbours to discuss the future of the region.

Hawks in the Bush team have raised the prospect of action against Syria. Mr Rumsfeld warned that Syria would be "held to account" if it provided military equipment to Iraq.

General Powell, considered amoderate within the administration, joined the chorus of disapproval despite concern over deteriorating relations between Syria and the West. He said: "We think it would be very unwise ... if suddenly Syria becomes a haven for all these people who should be brought to justice who are trying to get out of Baghdad ... nor do I know why Syria would become a place of haven for people who should be subject to the justice of the Iraqi people."

General Powell told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost: "Syria has been a concern for a long period of time. We have designated Syria for years as a state that sponsors terrorism.

"We are concerned that materials have flowed through Syria to the Iraqi regime over the years. We are making this point clearly and in a very direct manner to the Syrians."

Mr O'Brien, who visited Tehran, the Iranian capital, yesterday, will raise the Allies' concerns with the Syrian authorities today. Mr Straw was visiting Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq.

Lawrence Eagleburger, who was US Secretary of State under George Bush Snr, told the BBC: "If George Bush [Jnr] decided he was going to turn the troops loose on Syria and Iran after that he would last in office for about 15 minutes.In fact if President Bush were to try that now even I would think that he ought to be impeached. You can't get away with that sort of thing in this democracy."