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Bush officials in lockstep on Syria

By
PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent

WASHINGTON, April 14 (UPI) -- The Bush administration Monday raised the rhetoric against Syria, calling it a "rogue nation," accusing it of possessing weapons of mass destruction, and reiterating that senior members of the Iraqi regime had taken refuge in the neighboring Arab state.

"Syria is indeed a rogue state," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at a news briefing.

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The allegations were repeated throughout the administration Monday, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell joining the growing chorus against Damascus.

Washington knew for certain that fleeing members of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party had "crossed the border and gone into Syria," Fleischer said Monday, adding it was important that Damascus not harbor these officials.

"Syria has received the message not only from the ambassador but ... from other officials in the government," he said. "And I think it's important for Syria to recognize that not only is it ... the wise way to conduct diplomacy, but also ... a way of sending a message to the people of a newly liberated Iraq."

Fleischer played down suggestions that the United States was now training the crosshairs at Syria now that the war against Iraq nears an end, but he did not explicitly rule it out.

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"Syria needs to seriously ponder the implications of their actions in terms of harboring Iraqis who need not and should not be harbored; they should think seriously about their program to develop and to have chemical weapons," he said. "I think it's time to think through where they want their place to be in the world."

Speaking Monday at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld reiterated his criticism of Syria's alleged harboring of senior Iraqi leaders.

"We have intelligence that shows that Syria has allowed Syrians and others to come across the border into Iraq, people armed and people carrying leaflets indicating that they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition."

"And we have intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay, in some cases to transit," he said.

"We have seen the chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months."

At the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he and visiting Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah discussed the Syrian issue. He said it is important Syria does not give anyone list on the U.S.-issued list of most-wanted Iraqis refuge.

"This is a point that we have made to the Syrians directly and we'll continue to make to the Syrians," he said.

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Syria has denied the accusations, calling it an attempt to obscure the events in Iraq.

Syrians have been directly involved in the war. At Central Command headquarters in Qatar, a military official said a number of foreign fighters have been captured on the battlefield in Iraq. The largest portion of them are Syrian, he said.

Soon after the war in Iraq began, Rumsfeld alleged that Syria was supplying night-vision goggles to the Iraqis and urged greater cooperation from Damascus. The allegations have steadily increased since then, and reached a crescendo Sunday when President Bush said he believed Syria has chemical weapons.

The Arab nation is on the U.S. State Department's list of nations that support terrorism. It is believed to be a key supporter of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organization.

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