Friday, Apr 18, 2003
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By Sridhar Krishnaswami
Gen. Powell said that the administration had begun a "very vigorous diplomatic exchange" with Syria.
"Syria does not want to be a safe haven in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom," Gen. Powell said adding that "lots of messages'' had been exchanged recently between Washington and Damascus directly as well as through other European countries, including France and Spain.
The Secretary of State has given no firm date for his travel plans but it is expected to be as a part of a larger West Asia tour that is designed to fine-tune the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
"I would expect to travel to Syria to have very candid and straightforward discussions with my Foreign Minister colleague and President Mr. Assad," Gen. Powell remarked.
In all the goings on in Iraq during the military operations and after, there has been a war of words in Washington basically not only accusing Damascus of having complicated the coalition war efforts during the conflict, but also persisting with non-cooperation in the aftermath of the conflict by giving refuge to members of the erstwhile Saddam Hussein regime. These charges have obviously been denied by Syria. One of the latest charges flying around is that Damascus gave shelter to a top Iraqi intelligence officer who has been linked to the assassination attempt of the former U.S. President, the elder George Bush.
Damascus has denied that the former head of Iraqi Intelligence, Faruq Hijazi, was in the country.
But The Washington Times, quoting an unnamed administration official has said that Mr. Hijazi was tracked within the last two days from his post as Ambassador to Tunisia to Damascus on board a commercial jet.
The sharp words from Washington to Syria on a number of fronts have not stopped with just senior administration officials, but have gone all the way to the President, George W. Bush.
And officials say that the charges are no laughing matter and that it is something that Damascus needs to address. What basically started off with Syria supplying Iraq with night vision goggles and anti-tank weapons at the peak of the Iraq conflict, the list and accusations have grown by the day.
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