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Bush: Syria, Iran harboring terrorists

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CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush on Monday accused Syria and Iran of continuing to "harbor and assist terrorists," an act he called "completely unacceptable."

After talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Bush said continued terrorism is the biggest obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and Middle Eastern governments should aid progress "by fighting terrorism in all its forms."

"This includes the governments of Syria and Iran," he said.

"Today, Syria and Iran continue to harbor and assist terrorists. This behavior is completely unacceptable, and states that support terror will be held accountable."

The United States lists both countries as state sponsors of terrorism because of their support for Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the State Department says. Both countries have aided the United States in its war against al Qaeda, but the United States has accused Iran of providing "virtual safe haven" to some al Qaeda figures.

Bush administration officials have also accused Syria and Iran of interfering in Iraq, where a U.S.-led occupation force is attempting to restore order after the April ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

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

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

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban at the time denied that her country was giving refuge to officials of Saddam's collapsed regime or has chemical weapons.

"Nobody even would even ask to come to us, because there is no good relation at all" between Baghdad and Damascus, she said.

In 2002, Bush called Iran part of an "axis of evil," saying it was attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction along with Iraq and North Korea.

Earlier this year, the Bush administration raised questions about whether Iran is harboring al Qaeda operatives. White House officials said Iran had taken "insufficient" steps to round up al Qaeda terrorists within its borders.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in May denied U.S. charges and urged delegates of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to shun terrorism as well as superpower domination.

"Our world has suffered from both violent dogmatists and arrogant powers," he said.

Bush's criticism of the country comes as Iranian students are demanding changes in the country's Islamic leadership.

Some Iranian leaders last month accused the United States of encouraging the demonstrators. Iran's Foreign Ministry said it had filed a formal protest of what it called U.S. interference in Iran's internal affairs.

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