US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday accused Syria of carrying out tests involving chemical weapons over the past 12 to 15 months and allowing some Iraqis to flee into Syrian territory.
Further increasing U.S. pressure on Iraq's neighbor, Rumsfeld said the United States has "intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay and some cases to transit."
"I would say that we have seen chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months," he said. "We have intelligence that shows that Syria has allowed Syrians and others to come across the border into Iraq, people armed and people carrying leaflets indicating that they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition."
Rumsfeld made his comments during a news briefing outside the Pentagon after meeting with visiting Kuwaiti Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah.
Earlier, the Bush administration said it will consider diplomatic, economic and other steps against Syria, saying it was concerned that Damascus is harboring fleeing Iraqi leaders and developing its chemical weapons capabilities.
"We believe in light of this new environment, they should review their actions and their behavior," said Secretary of State Colin Powell. He said other nations in the Middle East might want to review past behavior as well now that Saddam Hussein's government has collapsed.
"With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward," Powell said.
The secretary said he had no specifics on who the Iraqi leaders are who have allegedly fled to Syria. "I can't quantify how many might be slipping across the border," Powell said.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer had a similar message. Fleischer rejected Syria's fresh denials of having a chemical weapons program. "It is well corroborated" that Syria has such a program, Fleischer said.
"Syria needs to cooperate," Fleischer said.
He read from a CIA report to Congress last year that Syria had stockpiles of the nerve agent sarin, that it was "trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve elements," and that it was "highly probable" that Syria was pursuing biological weapons.
"I can only say to you that it should not be unexpected that the United States for a considerable period of time has said through diplomatic channels that nations that are rogue nations need to clean up their act," he said. "They should not harbor terrorists. They should not produce weapons of mass destruction."
At his news briefing, Fleischer said the administration hoped the ousting of Saddam's government would make an impression on Syria and other countries on the State Department's list of nations that support terrorism.
"I think when you take a look at why nations find themselves on the State Department list of terrorist states, it's because they made bad choices and bad decisions," Fleischer said. "And what the president is hopeful of is that in the outcome of this war, nations will examine the decisions they have previously made and, hopefully, make new decisions based on new reality in the Middle East. Gone is the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein."
Fleischer said the administration hoped Syria and other nations would reexamine "how they conduct their affairs and how diplomacy is conducted, and whether or not they believe they should continue to be terrorist states or not. And a early indication of Syria's actions will be whether or not they harbor these Iraqi leaders."
Pressed by White House reporters earlier in the day on whether the administration was sending the message that it was threatening an invasion of Syria, Fleischer said, "People have to realize there are acceptable standards of behavior that world and certainly the free Iraqi people hope will be followed by its neighbors, including Syria, and part of that is not to harbor Iraqi leaders."
Fleischer made clear there was no commitment to hostilities with Syria. "Every nation will be treated as events warrant," he said. "Not every solution applies equally around the world." But Fleischer said that "Syria is indeed a rogue nation" and suggested it must rid itself of Hizbullah.
"Nations that are interested in peaceful outcomes to world affairs-and do not interpret this as saying the United States has made a decision of action-when you talk about making peace in the Middle East, broadly speaking, nations should not pursue polices that ferment or encourage or harbor terrorism," Fleischer said.
Asked why the increasingly hostile rhetoric was being directed at Syria at a time when world jitters had just begun to calm, Fleischer demanded: "Do you think the White House and President Bush should look the other way at the fact that Syria is taking in Iraqi leaders?" As for why the White House decided to raise the issue of the months-old CIA report on chemical weapons in Syria, Fleischer said "it's a relevant fact." (Albawaba.com)
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