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Israel-Syria strife hampers U.S. policy on Iraq


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli strikes against Syrian targets in Lebanon could hinder U.S. efforts to build a new Iraq policy, officials told CNN.

Recent Hezbollah attacks on Israel put the Bush administration in a position of asking Syria to rein in the guerrillas while asking for its help on Iraq, State Department officials told CNN on Monday.

"This will undoubtedly cloud our efforts on Iraq policy," one official said.

Edward Walker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, travels to Syria, Jordan and Turkey this week to shore up support from front-line states whose cooperation will be crucial in tightening financial and military controls on Iraq. Iraq's neighbors have said they would support such efforts, but only if the United States eases up on its embargo of commercial goods.


On Monday, the State Department blamed Hezbollah for the new flare-up of Middle East violence that saw Israel striking at a Syrian radar site in Lebanon.

"We condemn the escalation and the cycle of violence initiated by Hezbollah," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "That Hezbollah attack was a clear provocation designed to escalate an already tense situation.

"We are encouraging everybody in the region to exercise influence and look to the Syrians to exercise influence over Hezbollah," Boucher said.

While Boucher urged "maximum restraint" by all parties, he would not comment directly on Israeli airstrikes against the Syrian army post. One State Department official said, "The Syrians are looking for something stronger."

The official added that the United States expects Damascus to "play hardball on Iraq" until they get a condemnation of the Israeli air strikes. Syria has "expressed this could complicate efforts" on Iraq if it doesn't get a tougher reaction, the official said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is considering calls to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa on the matter, the official said.

"This will undoubtedly cloud our efforts on Iraq policy," the official said, adding that getting support from Jordan and Turkey "now becomes even more important."

According to one official, the State Department was instructed to look at the list of goods banned by the U.N. sanctions committee and "cut the number in half immediately before even talking about the tough cuts."

He said Walker will talk with Jordan and Turkey about the importance of having well-trained monitors at the borders and would urge Syria to stop importing oil through a pipeline between Syria and Iraq.

Officials said that the Bush administration wants to have the policy in place by June 5, which is when the next phase of the U.N. oil-for-food program for Iraq is to come under review.

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United Nations
Office of the Iraq Programme
The Iraqi Presidency
Iraqi National Congress
Iraq energy profile, U.S. Dept. of Energy

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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