Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has sharpened U.S. criticism of alleged Syrian support for the Iraqi insurgency, saying the Damascus government is out of step with the rest of the region. She held talks Friday with Iraq's planning minister, Barham Salih, who said former dictator Saddam Hussein could face trial within a few months.
The Bush administration has been increasingly critical of Syria since Ms. Rice's visit to Baghdad last weekend, where she said Iraqi officials had expressed very deep concerns about the behavior of the country's neighbors, Syria in particular.
In a talk with reporters following her meeting with Mr. Salih, Ms. Rice said that while Syria has finally begun to remove its forces from Lebanon, it is supporting rejectionist elements opposing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and allowing its territory to be used for organizing attacks against innocent Iraqis. "We are concerned in particular about Syrian behavior on its own border, about the support for terrorists that appears to be taking place from Syrian territory, about perhaps financial support that is coming from Syrian territory. And it really is time for Syria to realize that it is clearly out of step with where the region is going," she said.
In her meeting with Mr. Salih, a leading Kurdish figure in the new Iraqi government, Ms. Rice said she renewed her call for the creation of an inclusive democracy in Iraq that protects the rights of women and minorities.
U.S. officials have been stressing the need for Iraq's new elected leaders to reach out in particular to the disaffected Sunni Muslim population, from which the insurgency has been drawing much of its support.
The meeting here followed the publication of new photos of Saddam Hussein in custody, allegedly leaked by a U.S. military source who hoped the embarrassing pictures, including one of the former dictator clad only in undershorts, would hurt the insurgency.
The Pentagon is promising an aggressive investigation of the release, which it said would violate standing procedures and perhaps also Geneva conventions against prisoner humiliation.
Mr. Salih said although Saddam Hussein is accused of serious war crimes, he needs to be treated in accordance with Iraq and international law. He said the ousted leader could come to trial within a few months, considerably sooner than Iraqi officials had said previously.
"It is a decision for the judiciary in Iraq. In the new Iraq the judiciary is independent, and the government truly has no influence in terms of deciding for the judiciary. But the last time I met with the chief justice for the special tribunal that is in charge of prosecuting Saddam and the other people accused of war crimes, they were telling me that within the next few months, Saddam Hussein could be brought before the court," she said.
Mr. Salih said Iraq's neighbors should remember that Saddam Hussein was a source of aggression and instability in the region, and should welcome the fact that the new Baghdad government wants to be at peace with them.
While not being specific, he said some of the country's neighbors have lived up to pledges of good intentions but that others in his words need to do better and be more serious about their declared commitments.