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Rice: Syria Risks Long-Term Rift with US Over Iraq Role


Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice warned Syria Tuesday it faces a long-term rift with the United States with its links to terrorism and alleged support for the Iraq insurgency. In Senate confirmation hearings, Ms. Rice also urged Arab states to boost aid to the new Palestinian Authority leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.

The Bush administration has for the last few months been accusing Syria of at least tolerating the presence in that country of former Saddam Hussein regime elements who are supporting the Iraqi insurgency.

Ms. Rice has now issued a blunt warning that the issue could lead to more U.S. sanctions against Syria and long-term harm in relations with Washington.

The Secretary-designate volunteered the warning in a confirmation hearing exchange with Republic Senator Mel Martinez over the U.N. Security Council Resolution approved last September demanding that Syria withdraw forces from Lebanon.

Mr. Rice said Syrian misbehavior, in the administration's view, goes beyond its non-compliance, thus far, with Resolution 1546.

"It is fair to say that the Syrian government is behaving in a way that could unfortunately lead to long-term bad relations with the United States," she said. "It is incumbent on Syria to respond, finally, to the entreaties of the United States and others about their ties to terrorism, about the harmful activities that are taking place from Syrian territory into Iraq, and to act on a number of the steps that were first outlined to them by Secretary Powell almost three years ago and then by Deputy Secretary Armitage just very recently."

Ms. Rice said the Syria Accountability Act approved by Congress in 2003 provides for a number of additional U.S. sanctions against Damascus, which she said the Bush administration will have to mobilize because of what she said has been thus far an unconstructive role by Damascus.

President Bush, in May of last year, enacted several economic penalties provided for in the law, including a ban on U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine. But he deferred action on some more severe sanctions including a downgrade of diplomatic relations, a freeze on Syrian assets in the United States and travel curbs on Syrian diplomats.

Elsewhere in the wide-ranging day of testimony, Mr. Rice stressed the Bush administration's intention to press ahead with new efforts toward Israel-Palestinian peace, given new opportunities presented by the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian Authority president, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

She said the United States will consider additional aid to the Palestinian Authority but said Arab states can also do more to help Mr. Abbas' new administration, and to boost the peace process by ending anti-Israel incitement:

"There are other roles that we need the Arab states to play and I think the most important is, as I mentioned earlier, you can't incite hatred against Israel and then say you want a two-state solution," she said. "It's just got to stop. They've got to stop it in their media, they've got to stop in their mosques, because it is a message that is inciting the people who want to destroy the chances for peace between Israel and Palestine, the Palestinian territories."

Ms. Rice said Arab states made a good but little-noticed statement against incitement at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit last June and that the Bush administration will be going back to them to remind them of their commitment and to ask them to live up to it.

She said the Bush administration is going to be engaged on all levels to advance Middle East peace but deferred a commitment on whether a new U.S. special envoy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will be named. She also said the process will not get very far if Palestinian terrorism is not ended.

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