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US: Syrian Cooperation Minimal and Sporadic

The Bush administration Tuesday brushed aside a Syrian statement that it has severed military and intelligence cooperation with Washington because of what it says is an unfair U.S. media campaign against it. The State Department said Syrian cooperation on Iraq and other issues was minimal and sporadic.

Officials here are openly dismissive of Syrian suggestions there had been meaningful cooperation on such issues as curbing cross-border traffic of money and fighters for the Iraqi insurgency.

Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustapha, in interviews with the New York Times and CNN, said his government in the last 10 days had severed all links with the U.S. military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) because of what he said were unjust U.S. allegations.

The Syrian envoy asserted that Damascus had provided the United States with important counter-terrorism help following the September 2001 attacks against the United States, and had worked hard to secure its long border with Iraq.

But he said his government no longer wants to be cooperating with Washington at the same time it is being publicly lambasted and attacked by U.S. officials.

Asked about the Syrian comments at a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said he was unaware of any specific communication from Syria informing the United States of the break, which he said would be a step in the wrong direction.

In any case, he said the cooperation Syria has provided was insubstantial.

"I'm not going to attach any tremendous importance to the statement, frankly, given the minimal and sporadic nature of the kind of cooperation we had,” said Mr. Boucher. “We did, I think talk, you know, over the years. There were moments when they were cooperating on al-Qaida, there were a few things they did with regard to the border. But I wouldn't say that they've cut off any particular regular and ongoing cooperation, because there just hasn't been regular and ongoing cooperation."

The Syrian envoy told the New York Times that U.S. complaints had resumed even though Damascus, in February, handed over to Iraqi authorities a half-brother of Saddam Hussein and several associates who the United States had accused of helping conduct the insurgency from Syrian soil.

A senior State Department official who spoke on terms of anonymity said Washington had given Syria a list of some 30 prominent Iraqi Baathists it believed had been operating there, but that the Damascus government, after what he described as a lot of pushing and pulling, only found one.

He said that, because Syria had done so little, the United States has been unwilling to give Damascus much credit for positive moves such as its military withdrawal from Lebanon.

U.S. officials say it remains unclear whether Syria has also removed its considerable intelligence presence from Lebanon, as called for in last year's U.N. Security Council resolution 15-59, co-sponsored by the United States and France.