U.S. escalates effort to isolate Damascus

Officials see consensus that Syria stokes violence in Lebanon, Iraq, Israel

June 24, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Bush administration officials asserted yesterday that an international consensus had emerged that Syria had been stoking the violence in Lebanon and Iraq and against Israelis, and that they are now certain that Syrian agents have been operating in Lebanon.

The comments represented an escalation of the campaign by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to isolate Syria diplomatically as the Bush administration has faced mounting violence against its interests throughout the Middle East. Rice has not said what other forms of pressure might be applied.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said there was "widespread agreement" at a meeting of leading foreign ministers in London, and among the delegates at a conference on Iraq in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday, that Syria bore major responsibility for instability in the region.

Rice, speaking at the conclusion of the foreign ministers' meeting, accused Syria of supporting the Iraq insurgency.

"Let's not have more words about what they are prepared to do," she said, regarding Syrian promises to help Iraq with security on their mutual border. "Let's have action. If they're prepared to do it, they should just do it."

In a separate development, the foreign ministers also heard a briefing from James D. Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, on his three-year, $3 billion proposal for the economic reconstruction of Palestinian areas, contingent on Israel's planned pullout from Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank.

The $3 billion package, which would effectively double current levels of outside assistance for the Palestinians, is tied to a variety of projects, including building facilities to help move goods and people into and out of Palestinian areas.

The renewed pressure on Syria comes as the anti-Syrian majority in the Lebanese parliament is set to form a government in Beirut and a series of assassinations have been carried out in Lebanon against anti-Syrian political and journalism figures.

In the past, Bush administration officials have said that there was a Syrian "hit list" for assassination in Lebanon, and have suggested strongly that despite the withdrawal of 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon, it appeared that intelligence operatives remained behind.

A Western diplomat who asked not to be identified said the emerging consensus about Syria was propelled by European concerns about Lebanon and American concerns about Iraq.

"There's a lot of international pressure on the Syrians to cease and desist," a senior State Department official said. The official said intelligence information makes it clear that Syrian intelligence operatives remained in Lebanon.

That conclusion was not fully endorsed by the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy.

"The withdrawal of Syrian troops has been observed," he said, noting that there was concern that Syrian intelligence agents may still be active in Lebanon. "The international community will not accept a situation where attacks on civilian individuals continue."

The meeting in London was of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight, which will hold a summit meeting to be attended by President Bush in early July at Gleneagles, Scotland.

A statement by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain said they also discussed Iran, the Balkans, the war and genocide in Sudan, the efforts to resume talks with North Korea over its nuclear program, and the status of negotiations over China.

Another senior State Department official said that the Europeans reported that they would await the results of Iran's presidential runoff today before assessing the prospects for a negotiated deal and fashioning "new ideas" to break the impasse on its nuclear program.

But the focus on Syria appeared to be the most intense part of the meetings here and in Brussels, suggesting that international pressure could increase, especially if the government that emerges in Beirut is anti-Syrian.

Syria and Iran sent delegates to the Brussels conference, but Rice declined to meet with them.

The Syrian foreign minister, Farouq al-Sharaa, told the Brussels conference that his government gave its "full support to the unity of Iraq and the achievement of its security and complete independence," and that Syria would "fully cooperate" with Iraq to enhance security on its border in a "practical and tangible way." He contended, though, that the United States had blocked Syria from obtaining "the equipment necessary to protect its long borders round the clock."

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