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Powell to Press Syria for Mideast Policy Changes During Damascus Visit - 2003-05-02


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Damascus on the first of two Middle East trips in the span of a week. The visits are aimed at restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process through the international "roadmap" released earlier this week.

Mr. Powell said the United States' aim is a comprehensive peace settlement including Syria, but to do so that government must cut ties to radical anti-Israel groups. Mr. Powell, who meets President Bashar al-Assad Saturday, says he will tell the Syrian leader there is a "new strategic dynamic" in the region with the fall of Saddam Hussein and seating of a new reform-minded Palestinian cabinet.

In a talk with reporters en route to Syria from Albania, Mr. Powell said he will ask Syria to reconsider some long-standing policies in light of the changes, including support for Palestinian factions the United States sees as terrorist groups, and the trans-shipment through Syria of supplies bound for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Mr. Powell reiterated administration assurances that it does not intend to follow up the war in Iraq with military action against Syria and said President Bush wants to see a comprehensive Middle East settlement that includes a peace accord between Syria and Israel. But citing, among other things, growing sentiment in the U.S. Congress to penalize Syria for its behavior, he said the government here "really needs to reassess its situation."