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Syria Denies US Charges of Not Cooperating in Fight with Terrorism - 2003-09-16

Syrian officials say Damascus is willing to cooperate with the United States in combating international terrorism.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara says his country is ready to comply with U.S. demands for greater cooperation as long as those demands are, as he put it, logical and realistic.

The foreign minister was responding to Secretary of State Colin Powell's comments Monday in Kuwait that Syria has not cooperated as forcefully as he would have liked, and indicated Congress may impose sanctions against Syria as a result.

Tuesday, Mr. al-Shara said his government has complied with numerous U.S. demands for cooperation. He said Damascus would continue to cooperate with the United States as long as the demands help to unify Iraq and find a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Powell said earlier he wants Syria to do a better job of preventing would-be terrorists from crossing the Syrian border into Iraq and to help find records and bank accounts for the former Iraqi regime in Syrian banks.

But, according to Syria's Minister of Information, Adnan Omran, no such bank accounts exist. He says Damascus is doing its best to it can to safeguard its border with Iraq.

"Syria does not at all allow any illegal crossing of the border," said Mr. Omran. "But, you know that it is 450 kilometers and you have the American army with all the planes monitoring the area. No one can control 450 kilometers. We do not allow anyone who is not authorized, who is not legal, passing."

Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that of more than 200 foreign militants captured in Iraq, the largest groups were those from Syria and Lebanon.

Mr. Omran also denied charges that his government is giving support to groups like Hamas, which are on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. He said such groups exist in Syria, but they do not have official government support.

The U.S. Congress is considering whether to implement the Syrian Accountability Act on the grounds Syria has failed to fully cooperate with the United States.

The act is designed to pressure Syria into withdrawing its troops from Lebanon, giving up weapons of mass destruction and halting support for terrorist organizations.

Syrian officials have said imposing sanctions against Syria would be a mistake and would send a signal to the rest of the Arab world that Washington was submitting to the demands of Israel.