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Bush Warns Syria and Iran They Will  be Held Accountable for Supporting Terrorists - 2003-07-21


President Bush is warning Iran and Syria not to help militants who seek to subvert the Mideast peace process. During a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the president's Texas ranch, Mr. Bush also discussed trouble spots in Africa and Asia.

The president met the Italian leader at a time of multiple foreign policy challenges, from Liberia to Iraq to North Korea to the Middle East.

He opened their joint news conference with praise for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's Ariel Sharon. But there were also harsh words for neighboring countries Mr. Bush says are linked to terrorism.

"Today, Syria and Iran continue to harbor and assist terrorists. This behavior is completely unacceptable and states that support terror will be held accountable," he said.

The comments came at a time when the president is preparing to immerse himself once again in Middle East diplomacy. Prime Minister Abbas is coming to the White House on Friday, and Mr. Sharon is due four days later.

At the same time, Mr. Bush is facing a decision on the possible deployment of U.S. peacekeepers to Liberia, the West African nation founded by freed American slaves. He stressed he is concerned about the ever worsening situation there, and is working with the U.N. and the Economic Community of West African states.

"We continue to monitor the situation very closely," he said. "We are working with the United Nations to effect policy necessary to get the cease-fire back in place. We are working with ECOWAS to determine when they would be prepared to move in the peacekeeping troops that I have said we would be willing to help."

The president was also asked about North Korea, and new reports that Pyongyang may have built a second nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.

Mr. Bush downplayed the reports, saying North Korea has made no secret of its nuclear intentions. He stressed once again that he wants to see the matter resolved diplomatically and urged China, South Korea and Japan to step up pressure on North Korean President Kim Jung Il.

"We must continue to work with the neighborhood to convince Jung Il that his decision is an unwise decision. And we will do just that," he said.

But the issue that topped the agenda for his meeting with Silvio Berlusconi was not North Korea, or Liberia or the search for peace in the Middle East. It was Iraq.

Italy is one of the biggest supporters of the president's Iraq policy, and Mr. Bush said they spent considerable time talking about Iraqi reconstruction. He said they focused on ways to expand the coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein.

"Obviously, the more help we can get, the more we appreciate it and we are continuing to work with other nations to ask their help and advice and we appreciate the leadership of the prime minister," he said.

Silvio Berlusconi's visit to the president's ranch was seen, in part, as a gesture of thanks. Mr. Berlusconi, who recently assumed the revolving presidency of the European Union said he wants to help mend ties between the United States and Europe that were frayed during the lead-up to war.

He said it is time to come together, to "revive the huge strength of cohesion." He said that is the message he will take home to Europe.

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