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Powell to Pursue 'Candid' Exchange with Syria - 2003-04-17

Secretary of State Colin Powell says he expects to travel to Syria to continue what he says have been "candid" exchanges with that country over U.S. charges it has been developing chemical weapons and providing a haven for senior officials from the former Iraqi government.

Mr. Powell gave no dates for a Damascus visit, which would be his first since last April. But he told The Associated Press he expects to make the trip to continue what he says has been a "very vigorous" diplomatic exchange with authorities there over U.S. concerns stemming from the Iraq war, including information that figures from the Saddam Hussein regime have found refuge in Syria.

"We have been candid with the Syrians, and we have also made it clear to the Syrians that we do not think it would be in their interest to be a draw from people who are trying to either get out of Iraq, or get out of other places in the world, and find a safe-haven," said Mr. Powell.

State Department officials say a Powell visit to Syria may be part of a broader Middle East trip to launch the four-party international "roadmap" for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, after Mahmoud Abbas is confirmed as the new Palestinian prime minister. Mr. Powell promised "much more active" U.S. engagement on the issue, once the Palestinian Authority has what he termed "transformed leadership."