Bush decides to send Powell to Damascus ''in the very near future'', says no war plans
President Bush said on Tuesday he has no current plans for another war and played down Shi'ite demands for an Islamic state in Iraq, according to excerpts of an interview.
Increased U.S. pressure on Syria since the toppling of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by U.S.-led forces had fueled speculation that Damascus could be the next target in Bush's campaign against nations he accuses of aiding terrorism.
But in a roundtable interview with magazine reporters that focused on his plans to revive the shaky U.S. economy, Bush said he was not gearing up for a new conflict, according to excerpts released by Newsweek.
"I have no specific operation in mind at this point in time," the president said, adding: "I can't think of a specific moment or a specific incident that would require military action as we speak."
According to Newsweek, Bush showed little concern about recent Shi'ite demands for an Islamic state in Iraq and for a speedy U.S. departure from the country. "I love the stories about people saying, 'Isn't it wonderful to be able to express our religion, the Shia religion, on a pilgrimage this weekend.' It made my day to read that," Bush said.
Bush also played down the cost of the war in Iraq. "I told the American people it didn't matter how much it cost to win the war, we're going to spend it," he said. "Fortunately the main military thrust was relatively quick in Iraq."
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday that Bush had asked him to go to Damascus.
Powell told the Charlie Rose Show television program the United States had seen progress on some of the demands it put to Syria. The demands included closing the border with Iraq to fugitive Iraqi officials and to Arab volunteers seeking to attack U.S. forces.
Powell said the United States still wanted Syria to change its policies, such as its support for Lebanese and Palestinian groups which attack Israelis and its alleged development of chemical weapons.
"The president also, therefore, asked me to go to Syria in the very near future, giving them a little more time to see how things develop, and to discuss these issues," he added.
"Syria also has now seen changed circumstances in its neighborhood. There is no longer Saddam Hussein as a neighbor of Syria and we hope that they have taken a look at that and drawn some conclusions ... and maybe it will cause them to begin rethinking some of their policies."
The overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should persuade Iran to reconsider its policies too, he added.
But asked if Iran had nothing to fear from the United States because of internal opposition to the rule of the mullahs and Iran's relative political openness, he replied: "I wouldn't quite go that far. I would say that we will protect our interests if it has to do with the war against terrorism." (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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