Powell says Syrians now know exactly what U.S. wants to help Middle East plans

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 5, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - If he had any doubts, Syrian President Bashar Assad now knows just what he must do to bring his country in line with U.S. plans for the Middle East, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.

Powell, who met with Assad in Damascus on Saturday, said the Bush administration and Congress are monitoring Syria's moves in the aftermath of the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein's government in neighboring Iraq.

''There are no illusions in his mind as to what we are looking for from Syria,'' Powell told NBC's ''Meet the Press.''

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''There was, as we put it in diplomatic terms, a candid exchange of views, but it is not promises that we are interested in, or assurances, but it is action. We will see what happens in the days, weeks, months ahead.''

Powell said that's what he told Assad.

''What I said to him is that we would be watching, and we would measure performance over time to see whether Syria is prepared now to move in a new direction in light of these changed circumstances,'' the secretary said on ABC's ''This Week.''

A key question involving Iraq, Powell said, is whether Syria will keep its eastern border closed, and track down and surrender any Iraqi suspects who might cross it to escape prosecution.

As of now, Syria's oil from Iraq and other trade going both ways have been shut off, Powell said.

If Syria follows through on those steps and cooperates with rebuilding Iraq, including the formation of a democratic government, Powell said, ''then that tells us one thing about Syria's decision to move forward: that they are looking for a better relationship with United States. If they do not, then there will be consequences.''

Powell said he emphasized in his discussion with Assad that monumental change in the Middle East has come not only with Saddam's ouster but also with a new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, in place to represent the Palestinians in the peace process with Israel.

The election of Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, brought the release of a new formula to work toward Palestinian-Israeli peace. The plan, created by a U.S.-led coalition that includes the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, gives a road map of what both sides must do to reach the goal of an independent Palestine existing in peace with Israel.

Powell said he told Assad that his support of terrorist groups, including harboring Palestinian organizations engaged in terror attacks against Israelis, ''makes it hard to move forward on the Middle East peace process. These things have to come to an end.''

The first requirement for the Palestinians under the road map is to do as much as they can to stop such attacks.

Assad responded, Powell said, that he would close the groups' offices and ''indicated he would constrain their activities.''

Powell did not specify what consequences failure to do as promised might bring on Syria, although President Bush has said all options are available.