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Powell Hints at Possible Punitive Measures Against Syria - 2003-04-14

Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday raised the possibility of U.S. punitive measures against Syria, which the Bush administration believes may be developing chemical weapons and giving safe haven to former members of the ousted Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

The Bush administration had made no secret of its concern that Syria provided material support to Iraq even after the war began, and now may be sheltering senior members of former regime. And Secretary Powell ratcheted up the pressure on Damascus Monday, saying the United States will examine possible diplomatic, economic or other measures against Syria if it fails to cooperate.

In a talk with reporters here after meeting with Kuwait's foreign minister, Mohammed el-Sabah, Mr. Powell said he hoped Syria will "understand its obligations" amid what he said was a "new situation" in the region after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"We believe in light of this new environment, they should review their actions and behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria, and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity. And so we have a new situation in the region, and we hope that all the nations in the region, and we hope that all the nations in the region will now review their past practices and behavior," he said.

Mr. Powell did not say what measures might be considered against Syria, but other officials said it could downgrade diplomatic relations with the Damascus government, which the United States has for many years listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

President Bush on Sunday alleged that Syria had chemical weapons and may have taken in leading figures from the Saddam Hussein government. In his comments here, Secretary Powell acknowledged Syrian commitments to seal its border with Iraq, but said it did not preclude the possibility that wanted Iraqis might still be able to cross.

"We're told the border is closed. But as you know it's rather porous border. So when you say it's closed, it might mean that the mean roads are closed. But whether or not others are able to get across the border is something that I can't speak to. But once they get into Syria and start heading to Damascus, I would expect that Syrian authorities would do everything they could not to provide these people a safe-haven," Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell's talks with his Kuwaiti counterpart included the issue of some 600 Kuwaitis missing from the 1991 Gulf war, and Foreign Minister al-Sabah said he had gotten a commitment from the secretary to expedite the search for them.

They also discussed the looting of the Iraqi national museum in Baghdad last week which resulted in the loss of possibly billions of dollars worth of archeological treasures.

Mr. Powell said the United States will be working with Iraqis, UNESCO and other organizations to secure the facility, but also to try to recover what has been stolen and restore artifacts that were broken in the looting rampage.