Sunday 11 May 2003
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sunday that Syria would find itself "on the wrong side of history" if it tried to destabilize postwar Iraq or continue harboring radical Palestinian groups.
Powell spoke in an Israeli television interview after launching talks with Israel and the Palestinians on implementing a new "road map" peace plan.
He said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should have "every incentive to respond" to issues he raised in talks with him in Damascus a week ago addressing strategic change in the Middle East after the fall of Iraq's Saddam Hussein in a U.S.-led war.
Washington wants Syria to help in rounding up Saddam loyalists, discourage the spread of mass-destruction weapons in the region and cease backing Palestinian and Lebanese groups that Washington classifies as terrorist, concerned that their conflict with Israel could endanger the "road map."
"What I said to (Assad) very clearly is that there are things we believe he should do if he wants a better relationship with the United States, if he wants to play a helpful role in solving the crisis in the region," Powell told Israeli TV.
"So if President Assad chooses not to respond, if he chooses to dissemble, if he chooses to find excuses, then he will find that he is on the wrong side of history," he went on.
Powell has dismissed suggestions that Syria was next on any list of U.S. military targets after Iraq.
After his meeting with Assad, Powell said Syria had taken measures to rein in Palestinian militant groups with offices in Damascus by carrying out "some closures."
Syrian officials said later the groups' offices served as media outlets and that none had been shut down. They said they were interested in dialogue, not ultimatums from Washington.
Assad, in a Newsweek magazine interview released on Saturday, linked curbing radical Palestinian groups to getting the occupied Golan Heights back from Israel.
Israel captured the Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and Assad said Syria was prepared to negotiate with Israel to get it back.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said last week he was ready to reopen peace negotiations with Syria but without guarantees of the outcome.