Syria promises no asylum for Iraqi fugitive to ease tense US ties
Xinhuanet, China, 2003-04-20
DAMASCUS, April 20 (Xinhuanet) -- In a bid to ease the mounting tensions with the United States, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday promised that Syria will not provide asylum for any fleeing Iraqi fugitives.
Assad made the promise in his meeting with two visiting US congressmen, Democrat Representative Nick Rahall and Republican representative Darell Issa.
"We spoke with Assad on a number of issues in regard to what the US has been alleging," Rahall said, referring to the US charges that Syria has provided shelter to some top Iraqi fugitives.
"Assad said that he is working with the British and other friends of the USA to resolve these issues," added Rahall.
Meanwhile, Issa told the ABC television in the United States that Assad had pledged to expel Iraqi fugitives who managed to get into the country.
"We're conveying that back to the United States, and hopefully we can count on him to enforce that promise," the California congressman said.
Tensions between Damascus and Washington heated up in the past week as US leaders stepped up their accusations against Syria for allegedly providing military support to the demised Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, harboring fleeing Iraqi officials and possessing chemical weapons.
Such charges have led to fears that Syria could be the next target on a US "hit list" after the downfall of the Saddam regime in Iraq.
For its part, Syria has strongly denied the US allegations, while indicating its willingness to cooperate with Washington to resolve these issues.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, considered to be a dove among the US government, is expected to pay a visit to Damascus in the near future to discuss ways of resolving the disputes.
Rahall also cautioned against equating Syria and Iraq, saying that Syria "is not America's enemy." He noted that Syria has been helpful in the US fight against terrorism.
But he added that Syria should also stop supporting terrorist organizations that are operating in Lebanon and Israel. Washington has long put Syria on a list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
In a sign indicating the cooling-down of the US-Syrian tensions,US President George W. Bush told reporters Sunday that he saw "positive signs" that Syria is "beginning to get the message."
Bush, emerging from an Easter church service at the Fort Hood army base in Texas, said Washington will present a list to Syria and "expect the Syrian government to hand the person over."