Accessibility links

Bush: Syria May Be Heeding US Warnings on Iraq

President Bush says there are signs Syria is heeding American calls not to harbor officials from the ousted regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Just hours before Mr. Bush spoke, two U.S. congressmen met in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There was a distinct difference in President Bush's tone on Sunday when he talked about Syria.

He seemed to chose his words carefully, focusing on progress and diplomacy. One week after he issued a stern warning to Damascus not to become a haven for former members of the former Iraqi regime, Mr. Bush spoke of positive signs from Syria.

"They are getting the message that they should not harbor Baath party officials, high-ranking Iraqi officials," he said.

Speaking to reporters after attending Easter services at an army base not far from his Texas ranch, the president talked about Syrian cooperation. He said if the United States gets information that a wanted Iraqi is on Syrian soil, it will expect help from Damascus.

"We of course will pass on the name and fully expect the Syrian government to hand the person over," he said.

The president did not elaborate further. But his words came just hours after two U.S. congressmen met in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After their talks, Republican Darrell Issa of California and Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia said the fate of the former Iraqi officials was the number one issue they raised during the two-hour meeting.

In an interview by telephone with the American television program "Fox News Sunday," Congressman Issa said they got assurances from the Syrian leader.

"He gave us a solid commitment which is being transmitted back to the State Department, which is that he would not allow these war criminals into the country, he would expel them if he finds them and he would not grant asylum for any of them," he said.

Mr. Issa said they also spoke about two other American concerns. One involves Syrian ties to Palestinian extremist groups. The other is evidence, contained in a now-public CIA report, that Iraq is developing chemical weapons.

The California congressman stressed they did not go to Damascus on behalf of the Bush administration, but as individual members of the U.S. Congress. All the same, he said they would pass on the results of their talks and hoped their discussions would, as he put it, "lay the groundwork" for a future visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell.