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Annan concerned over Syria charges

Anti-U.S. sentiment has been running high in Syria during the invasion of Iraq.
Anti-U.S. sentiment has been running high in Syria during the invasion of Iraq.

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The United States suspects some Iraqi leaders and their families may be seeking refuge in Syria.
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed concern statements made about Syria could further destabilize the Middle East.

Annan did not single out the United States, but his statement followed the cranking up of pressure by the Bush administration on Damascus including the threat of sanctions if Syria did not cooperate with U.N. demands.

"The Secretary-General is concerned that recent statements directed at Syria should not contribute to a wider destabilization in a region already affected heavily by the war in Iraq," a statement from Annan's office on Monday said.

U.S. and British officials have accused Iraq's western neighbor of developing chemical weapons and have warned it not to harbor members of Saddam's regime or support terrorist activity. Syria has strongly denied the charges.

While the Bush administration demanded Damascus cooperate with coalition efforts to capture and punish senior Iraqi leaders, top U.S. officials say Washington has no immediate plans to expand the war against Iraq into Syria.

To that end, Annan said he "welcomes recent clarifications in this regard," and reiterated his "strongly held view that any claim of threats to international peace and security should be addressed in conformity with the provisions of the [U.N. Security Council] charter."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had suggested sanctions might be imposed if Syria is defiant.

"We will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward," he said. "We believe in light of this new environment that they should review their actions and behavior."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said intelligence shows Syria has allowed its citizens and others to cross the border into Iraq armed with weapons and carrying leaflets indicating they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans and other members of the coalition.

He said there is other intelligence indicating some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria -- in some cases to stay.

Rumsfeld also said in the last 12 to 15 months "we have seen chemical weapons tests in Syria."

Syria says the charges are "baseless".

"All these accusations are baseless. We deny them," Syria's ambassador to the U.S., Rostom Al-Zoubi, told CNN.

He accused Washington of double standards, saying the only country with weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East is Israel, a country fully supported by the United States.

"The whole Arab people are asking why to focus on Syria this time and forgetting everything about Israel," Al-Zoubi said.

"Unfortunately, the Americans wouldn't like to believe us. We've said many times that we haven't weapons of mass destruction."


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