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Powell Warns Syria Against Giving Asylum to Top Iraqi Officials - 2003-04-13

The United States is warning Syria against granting asylum to high-level officials of the toppled Saddam Hussein government of Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue on British television Sunday.

Secretary Powell said Washington is demanding that Syria end its support of terrorism and that Damascus refuse any sanctuary to senior officials who worked for Saddam Hussein. "We are making this point clearly and in a very direct manner to the Syrians. And we hope the Syrians will respond accordingly," Mr. Powell said. "Also, we think it would be very unwise, and it wouldn't be consistent with what I have just said, if suddenly Syria becomes a haven for all these people who should be brought to justice who are trying to get out of Baghdad."

Syria denies it is protecting former Iraqi officials, and it says only humanitarian aid is crossing its border with Iraq.

On another topic, Mr. Powell denied that Washington favors Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi to emerge as the head of a temporary government the United States is trying to organize in Iraq. "The United States has not anointed anyone to be the future leader of Iraq or to be the leader of the IIA, the Interim Iraqi Authority. We believe very strongly that the Iraqi people and representatives of the Iraqi people in the first instance are the ones who should to that. The president [Bush] has made it very clear that we are not in the business of installing the next president of Iraq," he said.

Regarding U.S. relations with the United Nations, Mr. Powell conceded that the institution has been damaged by the divisions over Iraq. "I think it has been weakened. I don't think we should deny this or soft-pedal it. The U-N was presented with a challenge by the president [Bush] last September and they wouldn't face the simple fact that Saddam Hussein was not complying and he was using extended inspections in order to drag it out and hopefully interest would fade," he said. "That, I believe, was a failure on the part of the Security Council."

Mr. Powell also rejected calls from France, Germany and Russia for the United Nations to take the lead in establishing a new government in Iraq. He said the U.S.-led coalition paid the costs in money and lives to invade Iraq, and therefore has the primary obligation to make sure Iraq establishes a democratic form of government.