Washington, April 15 (Reuters): US secretary of state Colin Powell said today the US has concerns about the policies of Iran and Syria but it has no “war plan” to attack them or other nations.
The comments appeared designed to quell fears in the region that following its military defeat of Iraq the US might consider moving against Syria or Iran, which it also accuses of developing weapons of mass destruction.
“We have concerns about Syria. We have let Syria know of our concerns. We also have concerns about some of the policies of Iran. We have made the Iranians fully aware of our concerns,” Powell said.
“But there is no list, there is no war plan right now to go attack someone else either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values,” Powell said.
Top US officials have accused Syria of giving sanctuary to fleeing Iraqi officials and of assisting Saddam Hussein in his effort to defend Iraq against the US invasion, which has been largely completed within a month.
While repeating some of these accusations, Powell appeared to draw a distinction between US concerns about Syria and Iran and those about Saddam’s Iraq, which he described as a “unique case.”
“It was a dictator terrorising his people, raping and pillaging his own people, wasting his treasure but beyond that invading his neighbours and threatening the whole world with weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Syria today denounced US accusations that Damascus was developing chemical weapons as threats and falsifications designed to further Israeli interests.
The Cabinet said in a statement that the “escalated language of threats and accusations by some American officials against Syria are aimed at damaging its steadfastness and influencing its national decisions and (Arab) national stances”.
“The Cabinet rejected these accusations and falsified allegations and saw them as a response to Israeli stimulus and a service to its (Israel’s) goals and expansive greed...” it said, demanding an end to the “American-British occupation of Iraq”.
The Cabinet issued the statement after Washington said Syria was a rogue nation and that it would examine diplomatic and economic measures against Damascus.
Diplomats and analysts say the mounting US warnings to Syria are aimed chiefly at pressuring Damascus to stop aiding anti-Israeli militant groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah.
State-run Syrian radio called today for Arab solidarity to foil what it called a Zionist plan “to assume full control of our region and rearrange it in a manner that would terminate any presence of an Arab nationalist setting”.
The radio, a government mouthpiece, said Israel and the “Zionist lobby” have penetrated the US administration and wanted to extend the war against Iraq to other countries.
“This requires all to move and adopt a unified and clear stance to make the enemies of this (Arab) nation understand that Arabs will stand as a unified rank in the face of dangers,” it said.
In Madrid, Syria’s ambassador to Spain earlier described as an insult US accusations that Syria was harbouring terrorists.
“It’s an insult to my country, an insult to a country that is a member of the UN Security Council and an insult to a peaceful country that is struggling and working for a lasting peace in West Asia,” the ambassador, Mohsen Bilal, told Spain’s Cadena Ser radio.
Bilal also denied Syria had granted protection to senior Iraqi leaders who may have fled across the border.
He said the US-led war against Iraq had been motivated by oil interests and protecting Israel. “They now have the oil, and the destruction of Iraq... Today begins the second phase of the war, which is to make Israel the most potent force in West Asia,” he said.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Damascus yesterday of testing chemical weapons within the last 12-15 months and of harbouring Saddam’s top associates. Secretary of state Colin Powell warned of possible diplomatic or economic measures.
US President George W. Bush tried to enlist Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar yesterday in his campaign to put pressure on Syria, asking him to warn Damascus not to give shelter to senior Saddam aides.
But Aznar, one of Bush’s most loyal allies on Iraq, said in Warsaw today: “Syria has been and will be a friend of Spain”.
He said he would talk with Syrian leaders later today or tomorrow, but would make no demands on them.