Syria to send armored division to gulf Report precedes visit by Baker

September 14, 1990|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria will send a 10,000-man, 300-tank armored division to Saudi Arabia, where 3,000 of its troops are already deployed along with U.S., Egyptian and other forces, a Western diplomat said yesterday.

The disclosure came on the eve of a meeting today between Syrian President Hafez el Assad and Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

It is expected here that the troops will be transported by the Soviet Union, although this could not be officially confirmed.

Syria is willing to send even more forces if requested by the Persian Gulf states, the Western diplomat said.

This Arab nation, whose relations with the United States have been strained because of its sponsorship of terrorism, is now cooperating with the United States in opposition to Iraq.

It is believed to feel that the United States is in a position to foster a new Cairo-Damascus-Riyadh axis in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, in addition to paying the cost of the Syrian deployment, is said to be giving Syria $2billion to $3 billion this year.

Meanwhile yesterday, en route to Syria from Moscow, Mr. Baker expressed "deep concern" over the Iranian spiritual leader's call for a holy war against U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.

In a speech Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that all who died for the holy war would go to heaven.

Mr. Baker said earlier this week that the Arab governments had told U.S. officials they believed Iran would remain opposed to Iraq despite a restoration of ties after their eight-year war.

How Iran deals with the gulf crisis is vital because it could be a transit route for both supplies and exports.

In a prepared response to a question, Mr. Baker said that the Iranian government had condemned the Iraqi invasion repeatedly and made clear that it would abide by the United Nations embargo.

But he also said that Ayatollah Khamenei's comments were "obviously of deep concern."

"We are not indifferent to threats against our forces, which are there as part of a multinational presence that includes Moslem and Arab nations," he said.

He said the Iranians "know we were invited in" to deter an Iraqi attack and provide for the defense of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Baker, who met in Moscow yesterday with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, discussed with the Soviets new ways of enforcing the U.N. economic embargo against Iraq.

New steps under discussion include action to block air shipments into Iraq and bringing sanctions against countries that violate the embargo.

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