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Damascus Aiding Iraqi Leaders, Rumsfeld Says
Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2003

Agence France Presse & Reuters, Arab News via

WASHINGTON, 10 April 2003 - Senior Iraqi leaders are fleeing to Syria, which is continuing to send military assistance into Iraq, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld charged yesterday. "I have accurately advised that they not provide military assistance to Iraq," said Rumsfeld.

"They seem to have made a conscious decision to ignore that. Senior regime people are moving out of Iraq into Syria and Syria is continuing to send things into Iraq. We find it notably unhelpful," he said, noting that Syria had been providing Iraq forces with equipment including night vision goggles.

The United States earlier warned countries it has accused of pursuing weapons of mass destruction, including Iran, Syria and North Korea, to "draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq". John R. Bolton, US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, also appealed to Syria and other countries in the Middle East to open themselves up to "new possibilities" for peace in the region.

"With respect to the issue of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the post-conflict period, we are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest," Bolton told a news conference in Rome. Bolton, in Rome for meetings with Vatican and Italian officials, specifically mentioned Syria, North Korea and Iran in his comments in response to a question about what the postwar period would hold.

Iran has said its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes, while Syria has denied US charges of shipping military supplies to Baghdad and lawmakers have accused the United States of double standard in its support for Israel. North Korea has sparked an international crisis with a suspected revival of its nuclear arms program.

Bolton was asked about a US poll that showed that half of the United States population supports US military action against Iran if it continues to move toward nuclear weapons development and 42 percent of those surveyed said the United States should take action against Syria if it was helping Iraq.

"I think Syria is a good case where I hope that they will conclude that the chemicals weapons program and the biological weapons program that they have been pursuing are things that they should give up," said Bolton, a leading US hawk.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for Syria to forswear the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and, as with other governments in the region, to see if there are not new possibilities in the Middle East peace process," he said. Bolton said the United States' priority was "the peaceful elimination of these programs" and that this was the guiding principle in Washington's attitude toward North Korea and Iran. Bolton met earlier with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican foreign minister, to discuss humanitarian efforts after the conflict and the Middle East situation in general.

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