Syria now top US target for 'regime change'

  • From: "" <muslim_affairs@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 9 Apr 2003 10:26:45 +0100

One of the main subjects on the agenda of the Belfast summit yesterday
was Syria, the Pentagon's next likely target for "regime change" amid
suspicions it allowed Saddam Hussein to transfer weapons of mass
destruction within its borders.

Although President George W Bush did not include Syria in his "axis of
evil" of Iran, Iraq and North Korea in January 2001, since then American
officials say they have seen growing evidence of support for terrorism
by Damascus.

American officials stress, however, that regime change can be achieved
without military action. There are strong hopes in Washington for a
popular revolution in Iran by democratic opposition groups inspired by
what has happened in Iraq.

President Bashar Assad, Syria's leader, has led Arab opposition to the
Iraq war, stating that he hoped Saddam would remain in power. Donald
Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, recently accused Syria of providing
military equipment to Saddam.

Some US officials are also convinced that Mr Assad has actively
collaborated with Saddam and agreed to take weapons, including Scud
missiles, from him so they would not be discovered in Iraq by United
Nations inspectors.

"Significant equipment, assets and perhaps even expertise was
transferred, the first signs of which appeared in August or September
2002," a Bush administration official told The Telegraph.

"It is quite possible that Iraqi nuclear scientists went to Syria and
that Saddam's regime may retain part of its army there."

Increasingly tough rhetoric from the Bush administration had made little
fundamental difference to the Syrians, he added.

"They behave only slightly when they're scared to death but the change
is only limited and tactical." Satellite photographs revealed heavily
guarded convoys moving from Iraq to Syria last year.

The official said: "Put it this way, they wouldn't have needed that kind
of security to move cattle."

The official said that there were also well-founded fears that Iraq and
Libya had also been co-operating and that weapons proliferation in the
Middle East was one of the major problems facing the world. Colonel
Gaddafi's regime was "scary close" to developing a nuclear weapon, he

In December, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said: "We are
certain that Iraq has recently moved chemical or biological weapons into

This claim was subsequently investigated by John Bolton, US
under-secretary of state for arms control and a prominent hawk in the
Bush administration. Israeli sources said Mr Bolton told Mr Sharon that
war with Iraq would force Syria and Libya to "come off the fence".

When asked by The Telegraph last week whether Saddam had exported some
of his weapons to Syria, Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary
said: "We just don't know."

There is firm resistance within the US State Department to Mr Rumsfeld's
hardline stance on Syria with many officials arguing, like their British
counterparts, that Syria can be a partner in the war against terrorism
if it is given encouragement rather than being threatened.

Richard Murphy, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
from 1983 to 1989, said he did not believe armed conflict with Syria was
on the immediate horizon.

"Talk of a broader military conflict with Syria does not represent a
decision taken by American policy makers. This is the view among the
neo-conservatives, some of whom are in the administration.

"There's a perception that the time has come to spread democracy in the
Middle East. Their view is that the US paid heavily on September 11 for
having not stood by its principles in dealing with autocracies in the
Middle East."

But neo-conservatives, former Democrats with socially liberal views but
a hawkish and ambitious vision of the use of American power abroad,
include Mr Wolfowitz and Mr Bolton and enjoy growing influence within
the White House.

Source:  Daily Telegraph

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