Syria Offers Angry Retort to Powell and Rumsfeld Remarks
New York Times
Tuesday 1 April 2003
WASHINGTON - The war of words between the United States and Syria escalated on Monday when the Syrian Foreign Ministry said it hoped to "see the invaders defeated in Iraq."
The latest bellicose remarks came in response to a speech Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to a Jewish group Sunday night in which he accused Syria of providing "direct support for terrorist groups and the dying regime of Saddam Hussein," adding, "Syria bears the responsibility for its choices, and for the consequences."
Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld fired the first verbal shot at Syria on Friday, when he accused Damascus of shipping sensitive military technology to the Iraqi Army, specifically night-vision goggles. These shipments, Rumsfeld said, "pose a direct threat to coalition forces." He added, "We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government responsible."
The United States military considers its night-vision technology to be a key advantage over the Iraqis. But on Monday, a senior American commander serving in the Gulf said he had seen no evidence that the Iraqi Army had obtained night-vision goggles.
"We have not to my knowledge seen any at this point," Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said during a news briefing in Qatar. Brooks, deputy director of operations for the Southern Command, added, "I'm just not aware of any that have been encountered."
In his speech Friday, Rumsfeld also warned Iran to rein in the Badr Brigade, a unit of several hundred Iraqis who have been trained, equipped and financed by Iran's Republican Guard to fight the forces of Saddam Hussein. Powell made no reference to the Badr Brigade Sunday night, but he did warn Iran to "end its support for terrorists, including groups violently opposed to Israel and to the Middle East peace process.
"Tehran must stop pursuing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them," Powell said.
Tehran has not responded to either Powell's or Rumsfeld's remarks. But relations between Iran and Washington have been especially testy since the United States urged Russia last month to end its program to help Iran build a nuclear reactor that Washington believes could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
The State Department announced Monday that Powell will leave Tuesday for a quick trip to Belgium and Turkey to discuss the war and its aftermath.
In Ankara, Powell will meet the leaders of the new government and try to patch up relations after the complex and contentious failed effort to win permission to stage troops on Turkey's northern border. Powell also intends to reinforce the American position that Turkey should not send troops into northern Iraq.
In Ankara, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would not send troops into Iraq unilaterally but needed to maintain the ability to defend itself against any "terrorist infiltration," as he put it. His remarks were published in an op-ed column in Monday's European edition of The Wall Street Journal.
Until Monday, the United States was in the process of transporting military supplies out of Turkey that had been prepositioned there for the troops Washington wanted to stage in Turkey so they could open a northern front in Iraq. The United States suspended the move of the equipment because angry Turks who oppose the war were pelting the trucks with eggs and stones, breaking several truck windows.
While Powell is in Belgium, an official said, he is to discuss the war with NATO and European officials, though the department has not said whom he will meet. There were conflicting signals on possible rapprochement between Europe and the United States on Monday. In Germany, the American ambassador, Daniel Coats, publicly thanked the German government for cooperation with the United States, specifically for treating wounded American soldiers at the Landstuhl medical center in western Germany.
At the same time, however, France and Russia demanded that the United Nations be prepared to verify any claims coalition troops may make if they find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The request indicated that those two countries are not immediately prepared to believe any claims the United States and Britain may make.
"If there are claims by coalition forces about discovering weapons of mass destruction," said Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, "only international inspectors can make a conclusive assessment of the origin of these weapons." A spokesman in the French foreign minister's office made similar remarks.
The Syrian foreign ministry's statement Monday mirrored that of President Bashar Assad, who told a Lebanese newspaper on Friday that he hoped the invasion of Iraq would fail and that "popular resistance" would prevent the United States from controlling Iraq.
The foreign ministry seemed almost jubilant that Powell had made his remarks to a Jewish group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Syria, like much of the Arab world, likes to portray Israel as the evil hand behind every American action in the Middle East. And so it was on Monday. Powell's speech to the strongly pro-Israel group "affirmed that all the actions of the U.S. administration in the region serve Israel interests and plans and satisfy Ariel Sharon," the foreign ministry statement said. "The officials of this administration are thereby obtaining good conduct certificates from Israel and its supporters in the United States."
Later Monday, Powell held talks in Washington with Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom of Israel.
Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, stepped up to defend Syria on Monday, saying the American accusations "will only inflame the situation further." He added: "No evidence has been presented to support this accusation."
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