Powell Sees Opening for Better Ties with Iran, Syria after Terrorist Strikes
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday he saw an opening for improved ties with Iran and Syria after the two countries Washington deems "state sponsors of terrorism" condemned last week's strikes on the United States and called for anti-terrorism cooperation.
Powell said a "rather positive statement" from Tehran and "a rather forthcoming statement" from Damascus were "worth exploring" but that Washington would like to see action on them before making any overtures.
"Iran made a rather positive statement for Iran," Powell said on CBS television's "Face the Nation" program. "We have serious differences with the government of Iran because of their support for terrorism.
"But they have made a statement and it seems to me a statement that is worth exploring to see whether or not they now recognize that this [terrorism] is a curse on the face of the earth," he said.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad both strongly condemned the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon for which US officials have said Afghanistan-based Saudi militant Osama bin Laden is a prime suspect.
The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran after the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage-taking of 52 Americans, but does maintain an embassy in Syria and has been in touch with officials there in the past two days.
Syria "provided a rather forthcoming statement and perhaps there are new opportunities with the Syrians," said Powell.
"I'm not under any illusions about the nature of the Syrian government but let's see whether there is an opportunity here to work together on the elimination of terrorism as a cause of violence in the Middle East and everywhere else around the world," Powell said.
Powell spoke with Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara on Friday after US President George W. Bush received a letter of support from Assad. On Saturday, Shara met with US ambassador to Syria Theodore Kattouf in Damascus.
The United States accuses both Iran and Syria of harboring and supporting various terrorist groups opposed to Middle East peace process.
Washington has identified Tehran as the "most active" state sponsor of terrorism because its support for groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad which are all opposed to a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The State Department's last annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report says Tehran also says Tehran funds, trains, and provides logistical support to extremist groups in the Gulf, Africa, Turkey, and Central Asia and has not revoked a decree ordering the assassination of author Salman Rushdie.
The United States accuses Syria of providing a safe haven, offices and some funds for many of the same groups supported by Iran -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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