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Syria denies hiding Iraqi weapons

Sharaa and de Villepin, left, on Saturday
Sharaa and de Villepin, left, on Saturday

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CNN's Sheila MacVicar reports on the reactions of Syrians to the fall of the Baghdad regime.
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DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa on Saturday denied U.S. allegations that Syria is hiding deposed Iraqi leader Saddam's Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and sheltering leaders of Saddam's fallen regime.

At a news briefing with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sharaa said U.S. complaints against Syria came "from fanatic circles" in the Bush administration who want to "degrade Syria's role in the region."

De Villepin arrived in Syria for meetings with Syrian President Basher al-Assad the day after Syria, responding to U.S. pressure, closed its border with Iraq.

At the news briefing, Sharaa faced more questions about U.S. claims.

"Sometimes I don't think the Americans know what they want," he said.

"They accuse us of hiding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but they don't listen when we tell them we don't have any. We have no weapons and we harbor no one and they bring us no evidence."

Then, talking about the Bush administration's military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sharaa questioned the United States' motive.

"Look at all these things: Is Afghanistan stable? Have their objectives been achieved? Have they found Osama bin Laden?" he asked, before mentioning the "looting and lawlessness" that followed the fall of Saddam's regime.

"They've left a mess in both these countries and they're not finished. Now turning their attention to a third country," he said. "Historians talk about the Second World War and how the Germans should have been stopped earlier."

Then, just before Sharaa was about to compare the Bush administration to Nazi Germany, France's de Villepin stopped him.

"You do not want to make this comparison," de Villepin said. "Don't do this."

Sharaa regained his composure and talked about the need to maintain dialogue and peace in the region.

On Thursday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz warned Syria against allegedly letting Islamic fighters cross into Iraq.

"In recent days, the Syrians have been shipping killers into Iraq to try to kill Americans -- we don't welcome that," Wolfowitz said.

"I think it is important that Iraq's neighbors not meddle with Iraq," Wolfowitz said.

"If they continue, then we need to think about what our policy is with respect to a country that harbors terrorists or harbors war criminals, or was in recent times shipping things to Iraq."

"We're telling them, privately and publicly, they need to understand it is a new world out there," a senior official told CNN.

U.S. intelligence officials said that while some relatives of senior Iraqi officials have crossed into Syria, they have no clear evidence any Iraqi officials themselves have done so. The United States said it is watching the Iraqi-Syrian border closely.

Two weeks ago U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued a stern warning to Syria, saying military supplies, including night-vision goggles, were passing from that country into Iraq, posing a "direct threat" to coalition forces.

"We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments," Rumsfeld said at a March 27 Pentagon briefing.

But Imad Moustapha, Syria's deputy ambassador to the United States, said those charges are untrue.

"It's not really about what Syria is doing. It's about what they are trying to portray Syria [as] doing," he said during a Thursday interview with CNN.

Moustapha also said Syrians "do not believe that Syria is next on the list of the United States," although he believes some officials in the United States do support expanding military action to other Middle Eastern countries.

CNN's Sheila MacVicar and David Ensor contributed to this report.

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