Syria-U.S. Relationship Facing 'Major Deterioration'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2004 If Syria doesn't reverse its counterproductive policy in Iraq, then the United States and Syria will have a "major deterioration" in relations, said a senior U.S. government official today.
This is directly opposite what Syrian officials have been saying following a U.S.-Syrian meeting in Damascus two weeks ago. Syria has touted the fact that its government will participate in talks with Iraq and U.S. Central Command on problems related to the country's porous border with Iraq. This set of talks is scheduled to begin this week.
Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the situation with Syria during a CNN interview Sept. 26. "The conversations I had with the Syrians this week did not clear up all of the outstanding issues that we have with the Syrians, but I found it to be more positive than the earlier conversations I'd had," Powell said.
The U.S. delegation to Damascus meeting gave the government of President Bashar Asad a very blunt warning about Syria's actions undercutting what the United States is trying to accomplish in Iraq. "It's not just a question of border control," said the senior government official on background. "Institutions within Syria are actively colluding with our enemies in Iraq."
The official said this is a Syrian political decision. The charge is that Syria is actively trying to destabilize the interim government in Iraq. "What we said in Damascus is that this has to stop," the official said. "Our message to Syria was a warning that this is very serious. Because this means Syria shares responsibility for the killing of Americans and Iraqis, and it has to stop."
This week's talks among Iraq, Syria and CENTCOM are a chance for the Syrians to prove they got the message and they are going to stop their behavior, said the official. The Syrians are portraying having these talks "as a great success and proof that the problems are solved. The Americans view these border talks as one way to test whether Syria got the message," he said.
The official said that pressure on Syria is growing over this situation. "If Americans are dying in Iraq because of Syrian policies, then this is something we are not going to tolerate," he said.
"An Iraq that is successful from our point of view may not be what they want," he continued. "Our job is to convince them that the risk of undermining us is much greater than the opposite."