US envoy: Syria a terrorist hub for Iraq
The Bush administration's top envoy in Iraq warned Monday that U.S. "patience is running out" with Syrian interference across the border, and refused to rule out either a military strike or punishment through the United Nations, AP reported.
Syria has become a hub for terrorists, as young, would-be terrorists travel unmolested through the Damascus airport on one-way tickets, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said. The United States also accuses Syria of turning a blind eye to terror training camps on its soil.
"Our patience is running out, the patience of Iraqis are running out. The time for decision ... has arrived for Damascus," Khalilzad told reporters at the State Department.
The tough talk is part of a U.S. campaign to increase pressure on Syria in several foreign capitals and at the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York.
Syria's alleged role in exporting terrorism or political repression to Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon is a subject of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's discussions with several leaders at the U.N. gathering.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli echoed Khalilzad later Monday.
"What we're looking for is, as Ambassador Khalilzad said, is a decision by the government of Syria to get serious about preventing its territory from being used by insurgents and others bent on destabilizing Iraq and killing innocent Iraqis."
The diplomat offered no proof for what he called blatant interference by Syria in Iraq's democratic development, and would not spell out what consequences Damascus might face.
Asked specifically about reproach from the U.N. Security Council or possible military action, Khalilzad had the same response: "All options are on the table."
With U.S. military force stretched thin by the ongoing war in Iraq, a large-scale invasion of neighboring Syria is unlikely. The United States or an ally could launch air strikes on suspected terrorist camps or other sites, however.
The U.N. Security Council could also chastise Syria or impose sanctions. At the urging of the United States and France, the Security Council last year voted to issue a strong denunciation of Syrian influence over neighboring Lebanon, and called for an immediate withdrawal.
Most of the guerrilla forces battling U.S. troops and Iraqi army and security forces are part of an indigenous insurgency dominated by disaffected Sunni Arabs. By U.S. estimates, foreign fighters make up less than 10 percent of the opposing force.
U.S. military commanders say the foreign forces are more likely to carry out suicide bombings, making them far more dangerous than their numbers might indicate. Iraqi leaders also claim that most if not all those foreigners are entering Iraq across a porous Syrian border.
"The Syrians have to stop sending destruction to Iraq," Iraq Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi said in Baghdad. "We know the terrorists have no other gateway into Iraq but Syria."
A Syrian Foreign Ministry official reacted angrily Monday, rejecting the Iraqi claim as "absolutely untrue." The official SANA news agency in Damascus did not name the official it quoted as saying, "Iraqi officials are fully aware that Syria is exerting all-out efforts to control the borders."
Syria announced new measures to crack down on border infiltration in July, and has complained that U.S. and Iraqi forces have mistakenly shot at Syrian soldiers trying to police the border.
The Bush administration's rhetorical pressure on Syria over Iraq is similar to last year's effort to dislodge Syrian troops from Lebanon. Syria first ignored the United Nations demand, but did pull its troops out this spring after weeks of anti-Syrian street demonstrations and political turmoil.